OTTAWA — CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani and former Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis defended Canada Soccer's controversial deal with Canadian Soccer Business on Thursday, telling a parliamentary committee that the contract provided the governing body with more guaranteed revenue that it had received previously.
Montagliani said that before the CSB agreement there was "absolutely no domestic media market" for national team games and Canada Soccer had to spend its own money to showcase its national teams on TV.
"I can tell you the principle of this agreement is no different than what happens throughout the world. Because the aggregation of your assets is the only way to build equity in your game," said Montagliani, a former Canada Soccer president now in charge of the confederation that covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.
"It was obvious when I was president of Canada Soccer we needed to take a different route and seek out new commercial partners," added Montagliani. "Not only to encourage investment, but to encourage ambition. That meant looking beyond the usual suspects to find new, more dynamic partners with appetite and willingness to build domestic football for the long-term."
Under the long-term "representation agreement" announced in March 2018, the CSB took charge of sponsorship and broadcast rights in exchange for an annual payment — currently around $3 million — to Canada Soccer. CSB uses its portion of the proceeds to fund the men's Canadian Premier League.
Critics say the deal is too rigid, too long and doesn't allow for Canada Soccer to benefit from the recent success of the men's and women's national teams. Canada Soccer has acknowledged it is looking to renegotiate part of the agreement.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather called the CSB deal "unbelievable."
Bloc Québécois MP Sebastien Lemire asked why Canada Soccer did not help create a women's league at the same time as the CPL.
"It really seems women come second in the world of Canada Soccer," he said in French.
Bontis said Canada Soccer sanctions leagues not create them, leaving that to private investors. And Montagliani noted the organization had invested in the women's pro game prior to the CSB deal, by subsidizing Canadian internationals playing in the U. S-based NWSL.
Montagliani said the hope was the CPL would spark investors to create a women's league, pointing to Project 8, led by former Canadian international Diana Matheson.
Conservative MP Rachel Thomas accused Canada Soccer of "enormous elitism at the top of the organization," adding its leadership group is "out of touch with the reality of the players, and in particular the players that are on the women's team."
"I think the other thing that is being communicated to the public is that this is an organization run by men for men," she said.
Bontis, meanwhile, said he has reached out to apologize to captain Christine Sinclair, who testified she was offended by his language during the labour talks.
`On a personal note I've than I was by Canada Soccer's own president, Nick Bontis, last year as we met with him to discuss our concerns,'' Sinclair said March 9. "I was tasked with outlining our compensation ask on behalf of the women's national team. The president of Canada Soccer listened to what I had to say and then later in the meeting referred back to it as 'What was it Christine was bitching about?'"
"To me this spoke volumes about the lack of respect Canada Soccer has for its women's national team.
Bontis said while he did not recall using that language, "I don't dispute it and my exact choice of words is not the point."
"What matters is she felt that I treated her concerns disrespectfully. I feel terrible about making her feel this way," he added
Bontis said he was delayed in coming before the committee because he and his family had been subject to threats from a "disturbed individual" for 14 months. An emotional Bontis said the individual in question had been charged with criminal harassment but died by suicide prior to the court hearing.
"Unfortunately the abuse continues by others," he added.
Bontis resigned as president Feb. 27, acknowledging change is needed to achieve labour peace.
He quit in the wake of a letter from provincial and territorial soccer leaders asking Bontis to step down given the bitter labour dispute.
Bontis, who is chair of strategic management at the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, remains a vice-president on the CONCACAF Council.
Montagliani, a Vancouver native, doubles as FIFA vice-president and head of CONCACAF.
He was president of the B.C. Soccer Association and served as vice-president of Canada Soccer from 2005 to 2012 before being elected president. He was first elected CONCACAF president in 2016, beating out FIFA appeals panel chairman Larry Mussenden 25-16 in a vote at the FIFA Congress in Mexico City.
He was re-elected CONCACAF president in 2019 and again in February, running unopposed both times.
Montagliani declined to answer Housefather's repeated question of how much he made with CONCACAF and FIFA, citing CONCACAF policy of not providing such information due to security reasons.
Bontis said he was "uncomfortable" sharing his CONCACAF pay "for privacy reasons."
At times, Bontis and Montagliani handed off questions to each other, depending on the timing of the subject matter in question. Canada Soccer chief financial officer Sean Heffernan also testified Thursday.
With both sides having seemingly settled on pay equity, the dispute involving the women's team now seems to settle on equal treatment, from travel to pre-World Cup preparation.
Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane, who appeared virtually before the committee with two board members March 20, has said the governing body erred in making cuts to the women's program this year and ha taken steps to restore the necessary resources.
But a gulf in trust clearly remains.
Sinclair slammed Canada Soccer in her testimony before the committee, citing a "culture of secrecy and obstruction.''
Fellow team representatives Janine Beckie, Sophie Schmidt and Quinn, who goes by one name, also appeared before the committee.
The sixth-ranked women's team, which formed the Canadian Soccer Players' Association in 2016, has been without a labour deal since the last one expired at the end of 2021. They have struck an agreement in principle with Canada Soccer on compensation for 2022 but say other issues have yet to be resolved.
The 53rd-ranked men, who organized last summer as the Canada Men's National Soccer Team Players Association, are working on their first formal labour agreement.
Both teams have resorted to job action over their dissatisfaction at the labour impasse.
Thursday's hearing was the third by the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage into the ongoing Canada Soccer labour dispute.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.
The Canadian Press