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FIFA World Cup: What’s behind the Canada Soccer player compensation dispute?

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As Team Canada prepares for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a lingering tussle over player image rights and prize money is playing out on the sidelines.

The issue of naming, imaging and licensing rights has been a point of contention in labour talks between Canada Soccer and the men’s national team ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.

The association recently struck a deal with star player Alphonso Davies. Under that agreement, according to a TSN report, the Bayern Munich winger will receive a royalty for sales of his national team jersey.

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Canada Soccer has not disclosed the terms of the deal but its president said Wednesday that similar agreements will be offered to the men’s and women’s team players.

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It’s a “complicated issue,” sports analysts say, that is distracting attention from Canada’s first men’s World Cup appearance in 36 years.

“I think it will absolutely impact performance on the field,” said Mac Ross, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Western University, who specializes in sport and human rights.

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Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis is anticipating the association can ink “an epic, historical deal for pay equity” with both the men’s and women’s teams before the World Cup starts in Qatar on Nov. 20.

“I really, really do anticipate and hope that we can get something done prior to kicking a ball in Doha,’” said Bontis, speaking on Behind the Bench, a weekly coaching webcast, Wednesday.

Ross said it was surprising that an agreement to compensate the World Cup-bound men had not been negotiated earlier.

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“It really is a head-scratcher that Canada Soccer didn’t have anything in place already, especially with the rise of the MLS and the popularization of high-level soccer in Canada domestically over the last several decades,” he told Global News.

Pay equity

Canadian women are also in the midst of negotiations.

Under their previous agreement that expired in December 2021, the women were not compensated additionally the images of four or more athletes were used in a group picture.

Part of the reason the women had an agreement that covered image rights was they were more successful and more in demand than the men, experts say.

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The issue has come to the forefront now with the rise of the Canadian men’s national team, with an increasing number of players playing professionally in the top European leagues, said Moshe Lander, sports economist at Concordia University.

“Soccer’s hot in Canada right now and in four years’ time, the World Cup is going to be here, and so these are issues that need to be resolved,” he said.

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Ross said similar standards for compensating men and women should apply, which has not been the case in the past, with legendary players like Christine Sinclair, the world’s all-time leader for international goals, generating thousands of dollars for Canada Soccer through her jersey sales.

“Over the years, there has been no urgency to compensate people like Christine Sinclair for all the jerseys she sold,” he said.

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“We fundamentally privilege men’s sport over women’s sport, even though the women’s program has been far more successful on the international stage than the men’s program.”

Money game

Davies, who plays as a left-back or winger for German club Bayern Munich, was successful in striking a deal with Canada Soccer last month after the governing body had been in talks with his camp for several weeks.

Davies’ jersey is by far the biggest seller among the Canadian men.

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Bontis said the association struck a deal with the Davies first because he sells the “predominant percentage” of Canadian jerseys.

It’s a thorny issue that has legal ramifications beyond the business aspect and will likely need to be revisited again, said Lander.

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“I think that Soccer Canada [sic] is going to struggle here with trying to figure out where exactly is the limit between the crest that appears on the front and the name that appears on the back,” he said.

Ross said there was a “silver lining” for others as they would also likely be compensated in the near future, adding that professional athletes have a limited amount of time to make money and national sports organizations shouldn’t get in the way of that.

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World Cup prize money is another issue on the table for players.

Historically, most national teams have negotiated a percentage of World Cup prize money, usually ranging between 20 and 30 per cent, but the Canadian men want a bigger cut, Bontis said.

He said the men and women will get an equal share of the Qatar World Cup prize money.

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“Anything that we negotiate will always go into the pockets of the men and the women. Nothing will be removed and frankly on the women’s side, regardless of what we will negotiate with the men, the compensation piece is going to be higher than they’ve received in the past.”

— with files from The Canadian Press 

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