“It’s been an emotional week:” CanMNT prepare for Curacao as labour negotiations continue

VANCOUVER, BC –  Atiba Hutchinson, usually one of the friendliest players on the Canadian men’s national team, walked onto the field without a gaze at his surroundings. While players donned smiles and jeered throughout the Matchday-1 training session, tension hung at BC Place. 

The Canadian Men’s National Team returned to training on Monday after boycotting three training sessions and a Sunday international friendly against Panama. They sought transparency into the financials of Canadian Soccer Business and looked to understand the monetary breakdown and gender pay equity, of incoming FIFA World Cup prize money. 

The last time Canada had a scheduled training session at BC Place, they didn’t show up. Yet, they had a light session on Wednesday in preparation for their Concacaf Nations League opening match against Curacao on Thursday night. 

“It’s been an emotional week for the staff, myself, the players,” head coach John Herdman told reporters after the session. “There’s a lot we’ve experienced on this journey over the last four years.”

John Herdman speaks to media on Wednesday (Stanley Lee)

Just three months removed from a boisterous crowd at BMO Field and a World Cup-clinching victory against Jamaica, Canada Soccer is in the big leagues now, and they’ve realized it this week. 

At the sticking point is compensation, pay equity, and a request for transparency into a CSB media and marketing deal extending to 2029. But, overall, the players want more respect for both the men’s and women’s teams. “It’s time. The women have gone back-to-back-to-back podiums,” Herdman added. “This group of men is very supportive of that idea.”

While the team returned to training this week, a deal is far from done between the CSA and the players. However, the week was more about education than negotiation, as both sides learnt what they were dealing with approaching Canada’s first World Cup in 36 years. 

“The last couple of days have been positive, perhaps even more than positive,” Canada Soccer Deputy General Secretary Earl Cochrane said, in a much calmer manner than Sunday’s chaotic press conference “The fact that the guys [players] were back on the field the day after, we’ve met a few times, they’ve been great. They’ve been really good. They’ve been asking questions, answering questions.”

Earl Cochrane speaks to the media (Stanley Lee)

As negotiations advance, there is no set deadline for a deal, although everyone would prefer that it come before the World Cup. Still, much of the discussion comes in the wake of U.S. Soccer’s equal pay settlement and advancement as a top footballing nation. 

“Like most things the Americans do, it generally influences things,” Cochrane said. “It was a blueprint that allowed for the conversations to happen. I think that ours, and our discussions, have been maybe more of a hybrid of all of that. But it certainly changed the conversation.”

Captain Atiba Hutchinson also noted that pay equity is important to the group and that the U.S.’s recent decision played a role; however, he also believes that both teams deserve compensation for the work they’ve put in. 

As the time ticks away and potential training sessions in the leadup to Qatar 2022 evaporate, the strikes and dances can only do so much. 

“We don’t have that much time before the World Cup comes around,” Hutchinson said. “So every session is important for us. Obviously, [Herdman] wants us on the pitch and working on everything in detail.”

Alphonso Davies, centre, celebrates with the CanMNT against Panama in Toronto (Ben Steiner)

The Canadian men did not achieve what they were looking to in the strike, failing to reach a deal with Canada Soccer. Still, they made noise, put the public on notice, and applied pressure on the association to work towards pay equity in the windfall of the new deal on World Cup prize money. 

“We know things are not done, things are not settled, but we thought of the bigger picture,” Hutchinson said pitchside. “We feel like things will get taken care of and we can get back onto the pitch and do what we have to do.”

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