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Herdman laments labour dispute between national teams and Canada Soccer

Both men’s and women’s teams have resorted to job action over their dissatisfaction
After winning fans at the World Cup, the Canadian men take the first steps toward the 2026 tournament as they return to CONCACAF Nations League play in their first outing since Qatar. Canada coach John Herdman looks on during second half group F World Cup soccer action against Morocco at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar on Thursday, December 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canada coach John Herdman paused when the issue of the men’s and women’s teams’ ongoing labour dispute with Canada Soccer came up in his pre-game availability Monday ahead of a CONCACAF Nations League showdown with Honduras.

“I’m just wondering, as a former coach of the women’s national team, how did you feel when you heard the former (Canada Soccer) president Nick Bontis describe women’s team demands as ‘bitching?”’ was the question.

It took some 10 seconds for the answer to come.

“I think frustrated. Really frustrated,” Herdman said pithily.

“How difficult is it these days to coach with all the Canada Soccer drama hanging around the team?” was the follow-up question.

A pause of some six seconds this time.

“Yeah, it’s not easy, given I think everything everyone’s put in to the program over the last 10 12, 13, 14, 15, 20 years,” Herdman said. “There’s a lot of people (who have) sacrificed a lot. We’ve worked hard to get to this moment, really hard to get to this moment. it should be different.”

The original question referred to comments made March 9 by Canada captain Christine Sinclair before a parliamentary committee.

“On a personal note I’ve never been more insulted than I was by Canada Soccer’s own president, Nick Bontis last year as we met with him to discuss our concerns,” said Sinclair. “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. As a team we do not trust Canada Soccer to be open and honest as we continue to negotiate not only fair and equitable compensation and treatment but for the future of our program.”

Bontis resigned as president of Canada Soccer on Feb. 27, acknowledging change is needed to achieve labour peace.

Bontis, Canada Soccer chief financial officer Sean Heffernan and CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani are scheduled to appear before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Thursday. Montagliani, a Vancouver native, is a former Canada Soccer president who now doubles as FIFA vice-president and head of CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane and two board members have already appeared virtually before the parliamentary 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.

The men boycotted a planned friendly against Panama last June in Vancouver. And the women’s team briefly downed tools before the SheBelieves Cup in February before being forced back onto the pitch by threats of legal action from Canada Soccer.

Herdman coached the Canadian women from 2011 to 2018, leading them to Olympic bronze twice before taking over the men’s program.

The Canadian men host No. 81 Honduras on Tuesday at BMO Field, looking to win their CONCACAF Nations League group and advance to the tournament’s final four in Vancouver in June.

—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

READ MORE: Captain Christine Sinclair slams Canada Soccer at parliamentary hearing

READ MORE: Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis resigns, says change is needed