Business·Analysis

Canada Soccer keeps World Cup finances behind the curtain

Canada's national team is playing winning soccer on the pitch and fans are turning up at the gate. That much isn't a secret. Who gets the money and how it will be spent, however, remains unknown.

1.25 million people bought tickets to the Women's World Cup, but national organizer won't talk money

Team Canada fans cheer prior to the start of FIFA Women's World Cup soccer action in Edmonton, Alta. More than 50,000 fans attended that game. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

It started innocently enough. 

A co-worker took her soccer-playing daughter to Canada's opening game win over China in the FIFA Women's World Cup. In an otherwise wonderful day, the only disappointment was a lack of Christine Sinclair posters available for purchase in the stadium.

A big win on the pitch, it stood to reason, must also be great for the bottom line, given the crowd of 53,000 was the largest ever to watch a Canadian national team play on home soil. 

Who gets the gate receipts? What about concessions, merchandise, parking and other revenue that comes with running a big sporting event? How about expenses? Does any money stay with local hosts? What's FIFA's take? 

- Richard Powers, University of Toronto

Regardless of how the millions are split up, attendance figures alone suggest that hosting the World Cup could be a transformational moment for the development of the game in this country. Surely Canada Soccer, the sports governing body, would want to trumpet how the financial windfall from the World Cup would be a boon for soccer here for years to come. 

Boy was that wrong.

Black Box 

Trying to pry financial details out of Canada Soccer was like boarding a slow-moving train towards delay and obfuscation. 

Canada Soccer deflected the first round of questions to FIFA's headquarters in Zurich. Questions then needed to be emailed. Repeatedly. Eventually, it turned out that only one person, Peter Montopoli, the CEO of the organizing committee, was empowered to answer. After more calls and some gestures by Canada Soccer towards Montopoli's availability, it became clear that five minutes on the phone with him, now pushed until late next week at best, wasn't ever going to happen. 

Canada's Christine Sinclair celebrates her game-winning stoppage-time penalty shot goal against China during FIFA Women's World Cup soccer action in Edmonton, Alta., Saturday, June 6, 2015. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

It took weeks of getting stonewalled to figure out the real question isn't how hosting the World Cup will be good for Canada, but rather why Canada Soccer's finances are kept such a secret.

Turns out, others have wondered the same thing, but they, too, are still waiting for answers. 

"I'm amazed at the lack of transparency at Canada Soccer, quite frankly I don't know how they get away with it," said Richard Powers, a governance expert at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business. "It should be more transparent. The fact that it isn't brings up a question of why isn't it and what are they trying to hide?"

The merits of financial transparency, given spectacular corporate meltdowns such as Enron or Worldcom, almost go without saying. It's easy to see why. If you don't have anything to hide, why not eliminate any doubt by letting everyone see for themselves. Closer to home for Canada Soccer, the ongoing FIFA scandal was made possible by a pervasive lack of organizational transparency.

And yet, despite receiving more than $7 million in federal government funding in the last fiscal year, it's remarkably difficult to find out anything about Canada Soccer's financial affairs. Unlike Rugby Canada, by comparison, Canada Soccer doesn't include any financial statements in its annual report.

Millions in the dark 

The latest projection for World Cup attendance, meanwhile, is 1.25 million. With ticket prices ranging from $20.15 to $165, simple math suggests that revenues from the gate alone will tally tens of millions.  

According to FIFA: "Any revenues from ticket sales, national supporters, plus the food and beverage programme remain with the [National Organizing Committee]."

Without more transparency, however, we're left in the dark about how that money will be spent. 

This isn't to suggest that anything untoward is happening, just that we now live in a world where keeping financial affairs behind a curtain, particularly when public funds are involved, is unacceptable. 

The corruption scandal at FIFA recently had Amelia S. Fouques, a sports lawyer and member of Canada Soccer's board, speaking out against the lack of transparency among the sport's governing bodies. 

She declined to be interviewed for this story given the potential her comments might detract from the national team's efforts on the field, but did say that questions about Canada Soccer's lack of financial transparency need to be asked. 

Sport Canada, which is part of the Heritage department, said Canada Soccer does provide financial statements to the federal government. Access to those documents, however, would need to be done through an Access to Information Request. To complete the circle of frustration, though, the release of those statements would need to be approved by Canada Soccer.

Another World Cup bid pending 

In its statement about the FIFA scandal, Canada Soccer said it's "committed to protecting the integrity of the game and upholding the values of transparency and inclusiveness on which our country prides itself."

Saying you're transparent is one thing, but actually being transparent is something else. The stakes — and the potential interest of taxpayers down the line — could get even higher if Canada wins its bid to host the World Cup in 2026. 

Canada, which plays England today in the quarterfinals, is only two wins away from a World Cup final.

Three weeks ago that alone would have sufficed. Now, unfortunately, we need to be asking Canada Soccer for much more. 

About the Author

Paul Haavardsrud writes for CBC's western business desk in Calgary. He is also a producer on CBC Radio’s national business desk where he talks about business on Radio One in the afternoons. Prior to that he worked for newspapers. On Twitter, he’s @paulhaavardsrud.

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