Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis steps down in move to expedite labour peace

Nick Bontis has resigned as president of Canada Soccer, acknowledging change is needed to achieve labour peace with the Canadian men's and women's teams.

Governing body embroiled in dispute with men's and women's national teams

Canadian men's soccer executive addresses the media.
Nick Bontis is walking away from his role as Canada Soccer president in hopes labour peace is achieved with the men's and women's national teams. He was elected president in November 2020, succeeding Steven Reed. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press/File)

Nick Bontis has resigned as president of Canada Soccer, acknowledging change is needed to achieve labour peace with the Canadian men's and women's teams.

The move comes in the wake of a letter from provincial and territorial soccer leaders asking Bontis to step down given the bitter labour dispute. Bontis resigned during a board meeting Monday, Canada Soccer said.

"Canada Soccer and both of our national team programs have the real potential to sign a historic collective bargaining agreement," Bontis said in a statement Monday. "Once signed, it will be a landmark deal that will set our nation apart from virtually every other FIFA member association.

"While I have been one of the biggest proponents of equalizing the competitive performance environment for our women's national team, I will unfortunately not be leading this organization when it happens. I acknowledge that this moment requires change."

Both national teams have called for a change in leadership.

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Earlier this month, the Canadian men asked for Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge to remove the Canada Soccer leadership If it is "not willing to take immediate action to respond to the players' demands and concerns."

Added the Canadian women: "If Canada Soccer is not willing or able to support our team, new leadership should be found."

St-Onge said Monday she expects Bontis's departure to help in negotiations with the national teams.

"I share the many legitimate concerns raised by provincial and territorial associations, and by players regarding the organization's governance, financial transparency, and relationship with its athletes," St-Onge told CBC. "We can now anticipate a pathway forward from Canada Soccer. We also expect organizations to reflect Canadian values, particularly in terms of gender equity."

Bontis was a lightning rod in the labour impasse, moving front and centre when he told a news conference last summer that Canada Soccer wanted a "facts-based discussion within the fiscal reality that Canada Soccer has to live with every day."

Bontis, who was an advocate of pay equity, said then that the Canadian men's proposal was "untenable."

Bontis was also a proponent of Canada Soccer's controversial deal with Canadian Soccer Business, calling it "pivotal in building soccer and growing the game in this country."

Ongoing labour impasse

The Canadian men and women have demanded Canada Soccer open its books, including its agreement with Canadian Soccer Business which looks after sponsorship and broadcast deals for the national teams among others. CSB pays Canada Soccer a set amount each year and keeps the rest, which helps fund the Canadian Premier League.

The women want the same backing ahead of this summer's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the men did before Qatar. The two teams also want an explanation for why their programs are being cut in 2023,

The labour impasse prompted the Canadian men to boycott a planned friendly against Panama in Vancouver last June. The Canadian women downed tools before the recent SheBelieves Cup, returning to the pitch under protest after Canada Soccer threatened legal action.

Bontis, who was elected president in November 2020 succeeding Steven Reed, said his resignation is effective immediately.

"Serving as a volunteer for this organization, and witnessing the tremendous achievements we've been able to accomplish together, has been some of the proudest moments of my life," he said. "Olympic success for our women's national team. Genuine diversity on our board of directors, including our first ever female vice-president. Our first men's FIFA World Cup goal at Qatar 2022. Winning the bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup at home.

Away from Canada Soccer, Bontis is chair of strategic management at McMaster University's DeGroote School of Business.

Bontis has been a member of Canada Soccer's board of directors since 2012, serving in several different roles including vice-president and chair of the strategic management committee.

Bontis was said to be in transit Monday from Guatemala where he was named CONCACAF Council vice-president (North America) on Saturday at the 38th CONCACAF Ordinary Congress.

Bontis' decision to leave his Canada Soccer post does not affect the CONCACAF position. A CONCACAF spokesman said the jobs are not linked and Bontis remains on the council.

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