Members of Canada Soccer's 2018 board of directors hit with player lawsuit

Soccer players file lawsuit

The Canadian Soccer Players' Association, which represents the Canadian women's team, has filed a $40-million lawsuit against 15 current and former board members of Canada Soccer alleging "negligence and breach of fiduciary duty."

The association's statement of claim was filed Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the controversial 2018 agreement Canada Soccer signed with Canadian Soccer Business, which gives Canada Soccer's marketing and sponsorship rights over to the CSB in exchange for an annual fee.

The lawsuit alleges the CSB deal "has created and continues to create serious risk to the ability of Canada Soccer to carry out its mandate."

"The 2018 Canada Soccer board knew or should have known that the CSB agreement would, at best, deprive Canada Soccer of revenue that could be spent on development, and at worst, could compromise Canada Soccer's ability to operate as a going concern," says the lawsuit.

It continues by saying: "In approving the CSB agreement, the 2018 Canada Soccer directors failed to demonstrate prudence, good faith, and any reasonable belief that such approval was in the best interests of Canada Soccer."

The statement of claim says under the CSB agreement, Canada Soccer receives a fixed annual fee of approximately 

$3 million to $4 million "that escalates only slightly over the initial nine-year years of the CSB agreement … and not at all during the 10-year renewal period."

"All other revenue generated by CSB in respect of the national teams is retained by CSB," it adds.

The lawsuit alleges the 2018 Canada Soccer board "acted not only negligently but also with wilful neglect with respect to their approval of the CSB agreement."

Allegations in the statement of claim have not been proven in court.

The lawsuit names the 2018 Canada Soccer board of directors, five of whom are still currently board members. Those named include current president Charmaine Crooks and former presidents Nick Bontis and Steven Reed. 

"We have been made aware of a legal proceeding filed by the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association, against the members of the 2018 Canada Soccer board," said a Canada Soccer spokesman. "Our organization is currently seeking advice on this matter."

Canadian Soccer Business, which shares the same ownership as the Canadian Premier League, was announced in March 2018 as "a new sports enterprise representing commercial assets and inventory for marquee soccer properties in Canada."

It represents corporate partnerships and broadcast rights for the women's and men's national team programs, all commercial assets of the CPL, the Canadian Championship and Canadian soccer grassroots programs.

The timing of the lawsuit, on the eve of Canada's opening game against El Salvador at the CONCACAF W Gold Cup, does not seem coincidental.

"I know news broke today but you wouldn't have known that," Canada coach Bev Priestman told a news conference in Houston when asked about the lawsuit. "That tells you that this team is currently focused on what's in front of them. There's been no side conversations. It's all been about what's going to happen on a football pitch."

Newly appointed Canada captain Jessie Fleming had little to say on the matter.

"To be honest, it's something that's being dealt with in the courts and so I think from a players' perspective we're not going to comment on it right now," she said. "Just reiterating what Bev said, the mood in camp is really good and we feel really good as a group right now. To be honest, it's not just something that's being talked about among the players at this point in camp."

Both the Canadian men's and women's teams are currently negotiating labour agreements with Canada Soccer.

The women’s previous deal expired at the end of 2021. The men are negotiating their first formal agreement in the wake of forming their own players association, the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association.

News of the lawsuit evokes memories of Canada at the SheBelieves Cup in the U.S. last February. That tournament was overshadowed by the Canadian women's move to boycott training over their displeasure at the labour negotiations and their subsequent return to the field under the threat of legal action from Canada Soccer.

Canada lost two of three matches at the SheBelieves Cup, finishing last in the four-team competition.

At the CONCACAF W Gold Cup, the 10th-ranked Canadian women have been drawn in Group C with No. 43 Costa Rica, No. 50 Paraguay and No. 104 El Salvador.

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