International Fixtures

Canadian Men’s National Team on Strike Over Wage Dispute

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With the 2022 MLS season mostly on pause over the first half of June due to the FIFA international double window, this past week and weekend were slated to have been for international friendlies and continental or intercontinental playoffs where the last available slots for this November’s World Cup were at stake.

On Sunday night, the Canadian Men’s National Team was slated to have met Panama in an international friendly at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver, but this match was canceled.

The canceled game between Canada and Panama was a late addition to the national team’s schedule of matches, as the originally-planned match between Canada and Iran was canceled late last month due to political pressure and backlash.

Monetary Issues Lead to Work Stoppage for Canadian Men’s National Team

In the final days leading up to the Canada/ Panama friendly in Vancouver over the weekend, the Canadian Men’s National Team was at odds with Canada Soccer over a wage discrepancy related to the World Cup, with the team declining to partake in its press junkets and training sessions ahead of the match.

These moves by the team cast serious doubt as to whether Sunday’s friendly would take place, and as kickoff time neared, it became clear that there would be no game contested on the evening at the home venue for MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the CFL’s BC Lions.

With under two hours remaining until the scheduled 4 pm PT kickoff, Canada Soccer announced that the match would be canceled for the evening due to the work stoppage.

First Match in World Cup Prep For Canadian Men’s National Team Gone

The canceled match was to have been the first action for the Canadians since officially booking their place in the World Cup for the first time since the 1986 tournament back in March of this year, thanks to a 4-0 shutout against Jamaica in the penultimate qualifier on March 27 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, ON.

The Canadian Men's National Team celebrate after qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.
TORONTO, ON – MARCH 27: Canada celebrates after the final whistle following a 2022 World Cup Qualifying match against Jamaica at BMO Field on March 27, 2022, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Throughout the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, the Canadian Men’s National Team proved to be a force to be reckoned with on the pitch, going undefeated in the first four qualifying windows before finally losing to Panama on March 24.

Instead of being in action on the pitch, the Canadians have taken a labor action against its national soccer association.

Canada Soccer President Bontis Speaks on Rejected Offer and Strike

Ahead of Sunday’s canceled friendly, Canada Soccer President Dr. Nick Bontis spoke on why the association rejected the offer from the national team in a press conference.

“My job as president is a responsibility to the fiduciary and stable health of this organization, not just for the last 120 years that we’ve been alive, but for the next 100 years we’re going to be alive, and I can’t accept that offer that will put our organization in a financial position that is untenable,” Bontis said.

“I’m sorry that the game didn’t occur today, not just for the fans. But I’m sorry for the technical staff, the coaching staff. (Canadian Men’s National Team manager) John Herdman, at the beginning of this window, had 16 training sessions with the national team between now and Qatar. That number went to 14 today.”

As previously mentioned, the Canadian Men’s National Team did not hold scheduled training sessions earlier in the weekend amid the current labor strike.

CONCACAF Nations League Match Between Canada and Curacao On Thursday in Question

After Sunday’s international friendly between Canada and Panama was scrubbed due to the strike, the national team is currently slated to turn its attention to the 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League with a match at BC Place Stadium vs. Curacao.

Canadas Liam Fraser celebrates the teams victory over the United States in their World Cup qualifying match in Hamilton, Ontario, on January 30, 2022. (Photo by Geoff Robins / AFP) (Photo by GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)

Given the current impasse between the Canadian Men’s National Team and Canada Soccer, it stands to reason that this game could also potentially be on the chopping block, something that Bontis doesn’t want to happen.

“If we cannot arrive at a deal, and the players refuse to play the Curacao match, that will be a CONCACAF issue under the auspices of FIFA, but our intention has always been to continue to come up with a solution as quickly as possible,” he mentioned.

Should the Canadian Men’s National Team not play in the CONCACAF Nations League because of the strike, Canada Soccer may be subject to fines.

The Players Respond

Before Sunday’s match was officially canceled, players on the Canadian Men’s National Team composed a two-page letter with the heading “Dear Canada”.

“We want to apologize to our fans,” said the members of the Canadian Men’s National Team. “Playing at home with your support is everything to us. We hope Canada Soccer will take decisive steps to work with our team so we can be back on the field for our match (in Vancouver) on June 9.”

Additionally, the team expressed that they had been slighted by the deal struck by Canada Soccer and Canadian Soccer Business four years ago.

“Where is the progression? Where is the money?” asked the team in its open letter. “We have recently learned that in 2018, Canada Soccer signed a deal with Canadian Soccer Business that has completely compromised their ability to leverage the success of our senior national teams. To have any chance of creating substantial, lasting change for all Canada Soccer programs, we need the terms of this agreement disclosed and corrected. We want to know who signed this deal that has hand-cuffed our association. Why has Canada Soccer given up autonomy of the greatest opportunity to grow our program in years?”

Canadian Men’s National Team’s Labor Action Latest Work Stoppage in Canadian Sports

The strike by the Canadian Men’s National Team is the second work stoppage by a Canadian sports organization this spring.

Last month, on the night before training camp was to have originally begun, the previous collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and the CFL Players Association expired, absent of a memorandum of understanding on a new agreement, ultimately delaying the start of preseason play.

Players on most of the nine CFL teams were eligible to strike the next morning in accordance with provincial labor laws, with players from the CFL’s Alberta-based teams, the Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Elks, being eligible to join the labor action after three days.

On May 18, at the end of the strike’s fourth day, the league and players association came to terms on a tentative agreement for a seven-year CBA, or so they thought, as this tentative agreement wound up being voted down by the players the following Monday.

A revised CBA was voted on by the league and players association and was ratified by the players on the eve of the first preseason games.

Canadian Women’s National Team Wants Wage Equality

It should be noted that the Canadian Women’s National Team has something to gain from this labor action: Equal pay for equal work.

“We have been clear throughout these discussions (and before) that we are seeking an agreement with Canada Soccer that will provide equal pay to members of our team relative to the Men’s National Team,” wrote the Canadian Women’s National Team. “The Women’s National Team will not accept an agreement that does not offer equal pay.”

VICTORIA, BC – APRIL 11: Jordyn Huitema #19 of Canada against Nigeria during a Celebration tour friendly match at Starlight Stadium on April 11, 2022 in Langford, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)

The United States Women’s National Team recently came out on the winning end of a multi-year battle against income inequality when US Soccer came to an agreement with both the men’s and women’s national teams on concurrent CBAs promising equal pay for the FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup, along with an equal split of revenue.

Final Thoughts

With time running out on the Canadian Men’s National Team and Canada Soccer to complete a fair CBA for all parties involved ahead of the CONCACAF Nations League, here’s hoping this labor dispute gets resolved in short order.

To quote rock band Theory (formerly Theory of a Deadman)’s 2008 single Not Meant To Be:

“Nobody wins when everyone’s losing.”

Players are missing out on training sessions and games with this strike, with the fans missing out on a chance to see this talented team on the field.

Main Image Credits: Embed from Getty Images

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