Canada’s preparations for this year’s World Cup have been thrown into further turmoil as players went on a de facto strike in Vancouver ahead of the hastily rearranged friendly between the country and Panama on Sunday.
John Herdman’s side refused to train on Friday and Saturday in an apparent protest over the players’ pay and benefits for Qatar 2022, with months of fruitless talks coming to a head. The players and Canada Soccer are still said to be sharply split on the demands with an initial report from TSN suggesting the players had demanded a 40% cut in World Cup revenue, with the association offering just 10% of a windfall from the Fifa which is probably in the $10-15 million range.
Fresh off the debacle sparked by Canada Soccer which initially staged a friendly against Iran, two years after 85 Canadian citizens and permanent residents were killed when an airliner was shot down by Iranian forces shortly after Having left Tehran, the weekend’s startling developments brought new ignominy to an association long marred by dysfunction and underperformance.
Herdman defied expectations and history to guide the Canadian men to their first World Cup berth in 36 years, with the team led by exciting young talents like Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David overtaking Concacaf qualification and earning a huge wave of new fans along the way.
Sunday’s friendly was expected to be the team’s first reappearance at home since qualifying against Jamaica in Toronto in March. However, the fate of the match, which was scheduled to start at 4 p.m. local time (7 p.m. Eastern), remained uncertain.
The team was scheduled to practice at the Vancouver Whitecaps base at the University of British Columbia early Friday afternoon. With less than an hour’s notice, this session was pushed back almost three hours before being canceled entirely. Saturday’s training session was also cancelled.
The standoff comes shortly after the U.S. Soccer Federation reached a groundbreaking deal with its men’s and women’s national teams that will see them share revenue from their respective World Cup campaigns and receive identical amounts for appearances and victories. The deal will see American players take a combined cut of more than 80% in World Cup revenue.
Late Saturday night, Canada Soccer disputed initial reports and said it had offered the men’s team to receive a 30 per cent reduction in prize money, with the same amount going to the women’s team and the association taking the 40% remaining.
“To be clear, the men’s national team request was 75-100% of the World Cup prize money,” the statement read. “The Association, in an effort to adhere to the principle of equal pay, has proposed that 60% of the FIFA World Cup prize money be split between the two national teams.”
The fact that player sources and association sources indicate vastly different demands and offers only underlined how messy the situation is. Players would also be upset to only receive two free tickets each for their games in Qatar and families will have to pay their own way. Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis and his acting assistant general secretary flew to Vancouver late on Saturday evening with Sunday’s game still highly uncertain.
The embarrassing mismanagement of Iran’s booking had left Herdman and his team with a three-game window that contained only Concacaf opposition Panama followed by Nations League games against Curacao here in Vancouver and an away date with Honduras. In contrast, Canada’s Group F opponents Belgium, Croatia and Morocco have all tested against other World Cup opponents in this window. Continental rivals Mexico and the United States had both booked two friendlies against qualified teams.
“Every minute together is crucial as we prepare to work collectively to give ourselves the best chance to play against some of the best in the world on the biggest stage,” Herdman said ahead of the Panama game, which was to see the return of Davies. a Canada shirt for the first time in 2022 and potentially a first cap for exciting teenager Luca Koleosho, who recently made his La Liga debut for Espanyol.
Herdman’s accomplishments at the helm are due to herculean solo work and building up a supporting staff. But signs that the association was not making great strides on the ground appeared. Combined with the women’s gold medal glory in Tokyo last summer, the men’s advancements had created huge fan demand for Canada’s replica kits, but they remained out of stock for a significant time. .
Former Canadian goalkeeper Craig Forrest told the Guardian this week that Canada Soccer “felt understaffed” and that the men’s qualification following an Olympic success had indeed created a false impression that the association national had its house in order.
“The only difference was John Herdman, who was able to walk the players through all the challenges and I don’t think that changed enough,” Forrest said. “And now they’re going to the biggest event on the planet times 10 and you have to be ready for this whirlwind coming from all directions.”