Soccer showdown between Canadian players and association triggers deja vu for former star forward

The clash between Canada’s men’s soccer team and Canada Soccer over pay and benefits has sparked a strong sense of deja vu for former Canadian star John Catliff.

In 1988, the forward led men’s national team players in a similar industrial action against the national sports organization, formerly called the Canadian Soccer Association, threatening to strike over insufficient pay on the eve of a World Cup qualifier in Florida.

“It’s really disappointing that decades later we still have the same kind of problems with our association’s Mickey Mouse. We should have learned a little over the past 35 years,” Catliff said.

“There is simply no excuse for us sitting here at the 11th hour to negotiate a contract that should have been done months or even a year ago. »

On Monday, the players announced they would return to training, although no deal was reached. The team is set to host Curacao on Thursday at BC Place.

The team declined to play a World Cup warm-up match against Panama in Vancouver on Sunday after refusing to practice on Friday and Saturday.

Players say they want more transparency from Canada Soccer, changes to the organization’s leadership and World Cup compensation that includes 40% of prize money and a ‘full package for friends’ and family” for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar which begins in November.

“We want to work with our organization, but the relationship has been strained for years,” their statement said.

Canadian men’s national soccer team player Richie Laryea, right, and his teammates carry coffee as they enter their hotel after their game against Panama was canceled due to a labor dispute. (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Sports business expert Tom Mayenknecht said the dispute and negative publicity are costly and will have future ramifications if not resolved quickly.

“Self-inflicted wounds”

“Obviously there is an immediate financial loss with the game being canceled and the expenses not going away. Then there’s reputational damage, which for me, depending on the duration, is even more costly in terms of brand value,” said Mayenknecht, host of The sports market radio program.

“It’s a really unfortunate self-inflicted injury,” he said.

Two weeks ago, Canada Soccer canceled a match against Iran which was to be held at BC Place after facing heavy criticism, including from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for inviting a country whose military shot down a Ukraine International Airlines plane in 2020, killing all 176 passengers, including 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

The match against Iran on June 5 was then replaced by the match against Panama.

Fan Darren Alexander bought tickets for both and had traveled from Victoria with six friends to watch the Panama game when it was canceled two hours before kick-off. He’s expecting refunds of $575 and says it’s “scandalous” the players haven’t signed an agreement.

“Supporters, we’re all on the players’ side on this. We just feel like [Canada Soccer] a generation or two behind. Many older people in the organization are obviously unaware, and clearly not making the best business decisions. »

Alexander said finding Team Canada merchandise is also problematic, which at a time of unprecedented success for both women and men raises further questions about Canada Soccer’s operations. He said it took him almost a year of trying before he could finally find an Alphonso Davies Canada jersey.

“They’ve really dropped the ball in that regard over the last few years,” he said. ” [Merchandise] was a known problem even with the women’s team during the Olympics when they won gold. »

During his decade with the national team, Catliff said the Canadian Soccer Association rarely put players first. As an example, he cites being sent home after blowing his knee while playing in Honduras in 1985.

“They took me through seven airports to save money… Tegucigalpa to San Pedro Sula to Belize to Houston to Denver to Spokane to Vancouver… All on crutches.

“It’s my personal example of lack of quality and professionalism,” he said. “These players are championing the next generation and the group of players, just like me. »

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