Canada Soccer said Thursday evening that the embattled organization and its top staff official, general secretary Earl Cochrane, “have agreed to part ways” after a little more than a year in the position.
The move comes less than two months after Nick Bontis quit his post as president of the federation’s board amid a high-profile labour dispute with the women’s and men’s national teams over pay and other issues.
In a statement, Cochrane, who has worked for the organization for 15 years across two stints since 2001, said that he was confident that he has “left Canada Soccer in a better place.” He added, “I am proud of the role that I have played in helping to stabilize this organization through its various periods of success and challenges.”
He was appointed acting general secretary in January, 2022, when Peter Montopoli left Canada Soccer to become chief operating officer of Canada FIFA World Cup 2026. That July, the position became permanent.
But his tenure was rocky from the beginning. The men’s and women’s national teams issued a joint statement when his hiring was announced, asking for Sport Canada to investigate Canada Soccer’s governance practices “and of the circumstances by which Canada Soccer entered into its agreement with Canada Soccer Business,” a private company that struck a long-term deal in 2019 for broadcast and other commercial rights of the federation.
Cochrane’s departure will be marked by the labour dispute, which broke into view last spring after the men’s team boycotted a game in Vancouver and, flared up earlier this year after the women were informed of cuts that had been made to their program. The women alleged Canada Soccer was not providing them the same level of support the men had been given, as they prepare for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia.
The women briefly went on strike during practice for the SheBelieves Cup in February, before being forced back onto the pitch because they were not in a legal strike position.
Cochrane and other Canada Soccer leaders were called before the standing committee on Canadian Heritage last month to defend the organization against accusations of sexism. The general secretary acknowledged the organization had erred.
“Recently Canada Soccer made some funding decisions for the operations of the women’s team that it thought would have minimal impact. We were wrong,” he said. “Those decisions were made with good intentions of controlling spending. But we should not have made those decisions that negatively impacted the women’s team.”
They were also asked to explain why the organization had agreed to a deal under which Canadian Soccer Business pays a flat fee – beginning at $3-million in 2019 and escalating each year, up to $3.5-million in 2027 – to licence its broadcasting and other commercial rights. Members of the women’s and men’s teams have said the deal prevents Canada Soccer from capitalizing on its recent success by charging more for those rights as the teams become more popular.
“There are drawbacks of the agreement with CSB. But we hope to resolve those issues shortly,” Cochrane told the committee. “We are listening and responding to what the players and technical staff need.”
In the meantime, the women and men are playing without a permanent contract – which has been in development for more than a year – with Canada Soccer. The women struck an interim agreement with Canada Soccer last month that would finally enable them to be paid for their work in 2022.
Cochrane will remain with Canada Soccer until May 12. The federation said that it will announce a transition team “in the coming days.” It will hold its annual general meeting May 6 in Saint John, when members will vote on Bontis’s replacement. Charmaine Crooks, who was the organization’s vice-president under Bontis, currently serves as acting president.
With a report from The Canadian Press.