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Canada men back at practice after meeting with soccer federation

Canada set to play Thursday a week after refusing to play scheduled match due to a labour dispute
A Canada soccer logo is seen on Alphonso Davies in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, March 24, 2019. A planned training session for Canada’s men’s soccer team was scrapped Friday amid ongoing discussions about player compensation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canada Soccer says its World Cup-bound men’s team has returned to practice after refusing to play an exhibition match against Panama because of strained labor negotiations.

The nation’s governing body announced Monday on social media that the two sides had met the night before. The team returned to practice in the afternoon and future meetings were scheduled.

Canada is set to play Curacao at Vancouver’s BC Place on Thursday in the CONCACAF National League. The federation did not note the upcoming game in its announcement.

The players said in a brief statement on Monday: “We move forward in hopes that Canada Soccer will work with us to resolve the situation.”

The match against Panama was called off just about two hours before kickoff when players refused to take the field. The players, preparing for Canada’s first World Cup appearance since 1986, didn’t practice on Friday or Saturday.

The team issued a statement on Sunday outlining its contract demands, including 40% of World Cup prize money, a travel package for friends and relatives and an “equitable structure with our women’s national team that shares the same player match fees, percentage of prize money earned at our respective FIFA World Cups and the development of a women’s domestic league.”

The players also want transparency with Canadian Soccer Business, which signed an agreement with the federation in 2018 to oversee media rights, sponsorship deals and other commercial assets.

“We want to work together with our organization, but the relationship has been strained for years,” players said in a statement. “And now, Canada Soccer has disrespected our team and jeopardized our efforts to raise the standards and effectively advance the game in Canada.”

The move comes less than a month after the unions for the American men’s and women’s team reached a landmark agreement with U.S. Soccer for equal pay.

Nick Bontis, president of Canada Soccer, called the players’ demands untenable. The federation had offered its proposal to the teams on Friday.

“Canada Soccer has been working with the players in good faith to find a path forward that’s fair and equitable to all. We would like to have a facts-based discussion within the fiscal reality that Canada Soccer has to live with every day,” Bontis said. “Canada Soccer is committed to the principles of fairness and equity and we believe we presented a fair offer to the players. We benchmarked our offer against other national teams from around the world. On the issue of gender equity, raised in the players’ letter, Canada Soccer’s offer also committed to provide the exact same terms to our women’s national team.”

The Canadian women are ranked sixth in the world and won the Olympic gold medal last year. The women’s side weighed in on the dispute Sunday, saying its negotiations with the federation have been ongoing since January.

The statement noted that the women do not consider a percentage of World Cup prize money earned by the respective teams as equal pay. But the women said they considered the federation’s proposal last week as a step in the process.

“The Women’s National Team will not accept an agreement that does not offer equal pay,” the players said.

Panama was a late replacement as an opponent for the men’s team after Canada Soccer canceled a match against Iran following criticism by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Canada is also scheduled to visit Honduras on June 13 in CONCACAF Nations League play. Ranked No. 38 by FIFA, Canada opens the World Cup in Qatar against second-ranked Belgium on Nov. 23, plays No. 16 Croatia four days later and then faces No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.

—Anne M. Peterson, The Associated Press

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