Soccer

New Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis tasked with guiding program through pandemic

A tenured professor at McMaster University, Nick Bontis's school bio says he's recognized internationally as a "leading strategy and management guru." Those skills — combined with some guidance from the man he's succeeding — will come in handy as he begins his new role as Canada Soccer president in the middle of a pandemic.

McMaster prof could see 2020 revenue cut in half, says national teams 'top priority'

Nick Bontis, fifth from left in top row, was spoke publicly Tuesday after being named president of Canada Soccer. (Neil Davidson/The Canadian Press)

A tenured professor at McMaster University, Nick Bontis's school bio says he's recognized internationally as a "leading strategy and management guru."

Those skills — combined with some guidance from the man he's succeeding — will come in handy as he begins his new role as Canada Soccer president in the middle of a pandemic.

Bontis, recently elected to a four-year term by the governing body, succeeds Steven Reed in the position.

"Steve is a professional accountant so you can imagine what his strength was — it's understanding the financial statements. I'm trying to learn that right now," Bontis said Tuesday. "One of the big mandates of my presidency is going to be finding alternative sources of revenue so that we can bounce back from this pandemic, and we don't have to necessarily rely on player fees if kids don't register back for soccer like they did pre-COVID in 2019."

Bontis served as Canada Soccer vice-president for the last three years and has been a director since 2012. He has led two cycles of the association's strategic planning process.

However, there's no blueprint for dealing with a pandemic that has hit the governing body hard. Revenue could be cut in half for 2020.

While Canada Soccer was able to take advantage of the Canadian Employee Wage Subsidy program, it also dipped into surplus funds that had been saved to help in times of crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic crippled the outdoor season and the indoor season is facing similar challenges now. Bontis estimates that player registration fees account for about one-third of revenue.

"That was a shock to our system as well as to all our of members and our provinces," he said of the impact on registration.

Bontis also pledged to work towards bringing the National Women's Soccer League north of the border.

"I'm willing to say I'll work my butt off to get an NWSL team in Canada," he said.

The 51-year-old Toronto native notes that while revenue is down, so is the usual outlay of funds normally spent on travel, camps and other support costs for national squads. Bontis said decisions still need to be made in terms of program spending but that the men's and women's senior teams "are the priority."

He added that it's possible that funds originally budgeted elsewhere may be reallocated depending on which competitions FIFA and CONCACAF decide to proceed with next year.

"I don't think it's about making decisions to cut something versus not cut something," he said. "It's really about what programming is going to be available."

Canada Soccer called off a proposed women's team camp last month in England and opted to skip this month's match window for the men. The association said the decisions were pandemic-related.

CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers originally slated for October and November had previously been pushed back to the FIFA international window in March. Canada Soccer still hopes to hold a camp in January for domestic players and others out of season, but health officials will have the final say.

"Like every other fan and as president, I want to make sure that both our men's and women's teams are playing competitive meaningful games before actual real competition in terms of the March qualifiers and of course the Olympics in Tokyo," he said.

The Canadian women are tied with Brazil in the No. 8 spot in the latest FIFA world rankings. The Canadian men are tied with South Africa at No. 72, sandwiched between Guinea and the United Arab Emirates.

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If the current schedule remains, the Canadian men will have World Cup qualifying matches during back-to-back international windows March 22-30 and May 31 to June 15 in 2021. The CONCACAF Gold Cup is slated for July.

Should Canada advance to CONCACAF's final round of qualifying, it would also play during the September, October and November windows next year. The Canadian men's team has not played since January.

The Canadian women, who last played in March, have international windows set for Feb. 15-24, April 5-13 and June 7-15.

Bontis is Canada Soccer's 35th president. Reed, meanwhile, had been elected to serve the remaining three years of CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani's term.

"The pillars I believe will still be the same moving forward," Bontis said. "That's to develop the game, to govern the game and to grow the game. I don't think those are going to change."

With files from CBC Sports

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