Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis predicts the ongoing labour talks with the Canadian men’s and women’s teams will produce “an epic, historical deal for pay equity.”
The association’s collective bargaining agreement with the women’s team expired last December. The World Cup-bound men recently formed their own players’ association and are in talks for a first CBA.
Bontis said he connected with captain Christine Sinclair, Sophie Schmidt and other senior women’s players as well as their legal counsel in late January, telling them “something very very different was going to come to the (bargaining) table.”
“I told them on a Zoom call that I guaranteed as president that I would deliver pay equity,” said Bontis. “This was a very very important and fundamental policy that I wanted to enact.”
Bontis was speaking Wednesday on “Behind the Bench,” a weekly coaching webcast presented by the National Soccer Coaches Association of Canada (NSCAC).
Bontis said historically most national teams have negotiated a percentage of World Cup prize money, usually ranging between 20 and 30 percent.
The Canadian men — returning to the soccer showcase for the first time in 36 years — wanted a higher percentage, which Bontis said “as a fan” he thought they deserved.
“They had done something for the first time in 36 years … But I knew that we had to do it under the context of pay equity. So anything that was about 50 percent would have been untenable.”
“Because it also meant that we would have to pay the women dollar-for-dollar that same amount and you can’t pay more than 100 percent of the money available,” he added.
FIFA paid out US$400 million in prize money at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Champion France collected US$38 million while teams that finished 17th through 32nd each got US$8 million.
Bontis said an agreement with the women is “95 percent of the way there.” But the men’s and women’s deals are linked, because of pay equity.
He said talks with the men have really only been going six or seven weeks, with the players not hiring legal counsel or registering as a players association until late August.
“I really really do anticipate and hope that we can get something done prior to kicking a ball in Doha,” he said. “But if we don’t, that’s O.K. as well. Because everything, of course, is retroactive. Anything that we negotiate will always go into the pockets of the men and the women. Nothing will be removed and frankly on the women’s side, regardless of what we will negotiate with the men, the compensation piece is going to be higher than they’ve received in the past.”
He said he hopes pay equity extends to FIFA prize money, “specifically when it pertains to 2026.”
Bontis said another element of the deal is travel funding for players’ friends and family, so they can watch them in action.
“We’ve provided that, a very very nice amount of money for friends and family,” he said. “And even though we haven’t signed a deal yet, that Friends and Families (policy) has already been implemented because their relatives have been able to book hotels and flights for the last month anyway.”
The final issue is naming, imaging and licensing rights, he said.
Noting the image deal recently signed with Alphonso Davies, Bontis said the association struck a deal with the Bayern Munich star first because he sells the “predominant percentage” of Canadian jerseys.
“Whatever agreement we’ve agreed to with Alphonso’s organization is the exact same agreement that we’re going to be offering to the men’s and women’s teams.”
Bontis was elected Canada Soccer president in November 2020, taking over from Steven Reed. He had been a member of the Canada Soccer board since 2012 and served as vice-president and chair of the strategic management committee.
Bontis said the Canadian governing body is a “tiny federation,” with an annual budget of just over $20 million, competing against giants with budgets more than 20 times larger. And $9 million of the Canada Soccer revenue comes from player registration fees.
“So my job now is to help our organization increase capacity. That’s the most important thing. Because we cannot stay as a $20-million organization any more. We have to come up with new revenue streams. We have to build new human capital. We have to build new programs.
“We have a gift and that gift is a guarantee that we will be at two (men’s) World Cups in a row. That’s a gift. Not many federations can say that.”
Bontis said the Canadian men and women will get an equal share of the Qatar World Cup prize money.
“And if there’s a fraction left over for the organization, guess what we’re going to use that fraction for? It’s going to be for Friends and Families. It’s going to be used for other expenditures to make sure (national team coaches John Herdman and Bev Priestman) have everything they need to be successful in Doha this year and (at the Women’s World Cup) in Australia and New Zealand next year. But it’s also for the retention of staff.”
“And that includes John,” he added. “So that type of conversation and negotiation I just want to assure you has been going on for months. Because we know that John’s a very very hot commodity. We want to keep him here, 100 percent right through ‘22 and right through ‘26.”
He then added a caveat.
“But I’m a realist and I’m a pragmatist. I cannot guarantee anybody on this call that John is going to stay with this organization. There’s certain realities that are out there, certain career aspirations that people have. Certain financial implications that we have and limitations.”
He also said any extra money coming out of the World Cup “will go to strengthening and stabilizing a women’s professional league.”
But said Canada Soccer won’t be launching the league or fund the clubs. “Investors do that.”
The role of Canada Soccer president is a volunteer position. Bontis’ day job is chair of strategic management at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business.
Bontis said Canada Soccer is looking for a chief operating officer with a posting for chief commercial officer to follow.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press