Canada's soccer landscape has just suffered a seismic shift - and like most of the earthquakes that hit this country, it's one that few will have even noticed.
Less than five months after a CBC News report showed that an international match-fixing syndicate had set its sights on the Canadian Soccer League (CSL), CBC has learned that the Canadian Soccer Association has told the CSL it will no longer sanction the league.
Sources within the CSA, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that a number of factors had contributed to their decision to sever ties with the CSL -- including the admission the CSA isn't equipped to tackle the domestic match-fixing problem.
The move comes just a week after Interpol hosted the Integrity in Sport conference in New York, intended to educate FIFA and CONCACAF on the growing match-fixing threat. Both CSA and CSL officials were in attendance.
"Match manipulation in football must be tackled in the strongest possible way and we are glad that CONCACAF is taking a proactive approach on this subject," Serge Dumortier, Senior Security Manager at FIFA told CONCACAF members this week. "We must take all the steps necessary to safeguard the integrity of our sport."
During the two-day conference, Interpol put on several workshops for CONCACAF members and spoke extensively on education and prevention. This included disclosing the nearly unfathomable amount of money that has been bet on the CSL since 2010. 'Many-headed dragon'
According to CSA and CONCACAF sources, Interpol told those in attendance that nearly $100 million had passed through legitimate betting houses, to be placed on Canadian Soccer League matches, the past three seasons. They held the CSL up as an example of how even little out-of-the-way leagues were being targeted in a major way.
Interpol stressed to those in attendance that not all of that money would have been associated with match-fixing but given recent revelations surrounding the CSL, "the number has sent chills through the law enforcement community."
Interpol issued a similar warning in Rome Jan. 17, when Secretary General Ronald Noble said that, "hundreds of billions of euros per year" were being generated by match-fixing. "Match-fixing is clearly a many-headed dragon that we must slay with a co-ordinated national and international effort."
Back home, the CSA's decision to restructure will cause some major upheavals - including some that may affect Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact.
The CSL now has several options. The league can apply for sanctioning with the Ontario Soccer Association (OSA). The CSL can dissolve entirely, allowing its individual teams to apply for sanctioning in the Ontario Soccer League (OSL), or the semi-professional Ontario League One. Or the league can choose to operate as an unsanctioned, rogue league.
The OSA is currently in the process of approving Ontario League One for full-time semi-professional status. OSA president Ron Smale said that it was too early to make a decision on what they would do if the CSL applied for similar status in Ontario.
"It's a decision that would have to go through the board but it's far too early to say at this point," Smale said. Not ideal for TFC, Impact
None of these options will be ideal for two of Canada's MLS teams. Both Toronto FC and the Montreal Impact had their academy teams compete in the CSL last season.
Under FIFA regulations, neither academy team would be able to place their players in an unsanctioned league. Any player associated with an unsanctioned competition isn't eligible to play in sanctioned leagues like MLS and could even face heavy fines if they do.
Toronto FC academy director, Thomas Rongen, said that TFC has a plan in place but wouldn't indicate where their youth teams would play in 2013.
"We feel very strong about being part of the Canadian soccer culture and we feel very strongly about staying in Canada," Rongen said. "I know there will be a professional alternative a year or two down the line, if the CSL isn't to be there anymore, if it is to fall. But it's been a good league for our players as it has allowed them to play against men, not youth players, every weekend."
In the short term, if Toronto FC Academy is to stay in Canada's system that will likely mean joining the OSL-Elite league - a senior Men's setup.
The Montreal Impact is currently playing some of their youth teams in the USSF development academy league, based in the U.S. They could not be reached for comment.
Another ripple in the CSA's decision to no longer sanction the CSL, is that the long-awaited Easton report - a study intended to determine the feasibility of a Canadian professional league - is expected to be widely released Friday.
"The Easton report puts forth the idea of creating a semi-professional soccer league that would be very similar to what junior hockey has accomplished with their structure, where you have regional leagues across the country and overarching governing body that hosts a national championship each year," CSA president Victor Montagliani said.
"This (report) is a way forward for semi-professional soccer in this country. And a way forward for us to start identifying some of the problems are our core."
Several requests for comment from the CSL went unreturned.
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