An ongoing battle between the Canadian Lacrosse Association (CLA) and a newly formed players union has reached a tense standoff after the CLA broke off negotiations and threatened to use replacement players for the upcoming World Lacrosse Championship in Israel this summer.
The National Lacrosse Teams Players Association (NLTPA) said in a statement the CLA abruptly cancelled meetings with the players association in favour of speaking directly with players and will “move forward in selecting other athletes” if the 34-man roster – to be whittled down to 23 – fails to agree with the CLA’s terms.
“The CLA will be reaching out directly to athletes to confirm their attendance at World Championships and if the athlete so desires to discuss any other matter of importance to them,” CLA lawyer Steven Indig said in an email shared with Global News.
The NLTPA has been seeking a four-year deal with the CLA for the five Canadian national lacrosse teams, aimed at providing better medical coverage, removing costs for players attending international competitions, the resignation of two CLA board members and the reinstatement of the Registered Canadian Amateur Athletic Association (RCAAA) status which was stripped by the Canadian Revenue Agency over its involvement in a multi-million dollar tax shelter program in 2010.
The dispute has jeopardized Canada’s chance of being represented at the worlds for the first time since 1967.
Global News obtained an email from the CLA to players addressing a number of concerns including an offer for improved medical insurance, and an offer to cover costs at the World Championships in Israel this July.
Players are facing a deadline of Sunday at midnight to agree to the deal.
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“If your athlete agreement is not signed and returned by Sunday May 6 @ 11:59pm the CLA will move forward in selecting other athletes,” said CLA executive director Jane Clapham.
NLTPA attorney Richard Furlong said the CLA’s action “constitutes brazen union-busting” and is damaging Canada’s reputation as the premier lacrosse country in the world.
“Ironically, it won’t work,” Furlong said. “The players, both men and women, are 100 per cent behind the NLTPA. The NLTPA is here to stay and defend the interests of both the players and the sport of lacrosse regardless of the abrupt position taken by the CLA today. We continue to be ready to meet with the CLA to hammer out a win-win deal.”
Clapham said CLA board members believe it is in the best interest of the athletes and the association to “communicate directly with each other.”
Members of the players association say they are seeking a deal that covers not just the men’s team this summer but the five women’s and men’s teams,
“It’s really disheartening,” Tory Merrill a member of the 2017 women’s silver medal team, told Global News. “The forming of the NLTPA is really important and such a positive step for Canadian lacrosse.”
“We need a four-year agreement in order to ensure quality for all the programs,” she said calling the actions of the CLA “shameful.”
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Geoff Snider, a former world championship MVP, says he is trying to remain optimistic that an agreement will still be reached, but he and other members will not be going to the worlds with the current deal.
“We have been preparing for all situations,” Snider said. “I personally don’t feel comfortable having our expenses paid to go over to Israel to compete and leave all the other programs in limbo. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to this group.
“The way things are currently structured I can’t see us getting on a plane.”
And while the association has threatened to use replacement players for the upcoming men’s field lacrosse world championships, Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer Garry Gait says he does “not see any scenario” where that happens.
“The Canadian lacrosse community is extremely close-knit,” Gait said in a statement. “I do not see any scenario where replacement players and coaches get on that plane to Israel. They would be breaking a bond among players that simply is never broken. It won’t happen.”