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Nick Bontis speaks during a news conference in Vancouver on June 5, 2022. The former Canada Soccer president, and current CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage as part of its ongoing examination of the labour dispute involving Canada’s nationals teams and their governing body.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

In his first public comments since stepping down as Canada Soccer president last month, Nick Bontis apologized publicly to Christine Sinclair on Thursday.

Speaking at a hearing of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa, Bontis wasted no time responding to Sinclair’s testimony to the committee, when she described an interaction with him by saying “I have never been more insulted.”

Sinclair, soccer’s career leading international goal scorer, testified on March 9 that when she had previously raised concerns about the compensation for the national women’s team, Bontis later said, “What was it Christine was bitching about?”

Bontis, one of three witnesses to testify Thursday, told the committee that he didn’t remember using the language Sinclair referenced, but he didn’t dispute it.

“She felt that I treated her concerns disrespectfully. I feel terrible about making her feel this way,” Bontis said in his opening comments. “I’ve since communicated with Christine and her agent to apologize personally. It was a mistake. I take responsibility for it. I regret it.”

Canada Soccer’s chief financial officer, Sean Heffernan, also testified, as did the president who served before Bontis, Victor Montagliani.

Bontis and Montagliani, now CONCACAF president, defended Canada Soccer’s agreement with Canadian Soccer Business (CSB), telling the MPs that the contract provided Canada Soccer with more guaranteed revenue than it had received previously.

Montagliani said that before the CSB deal, there was “absolutely no domestic media market” for national team games and Canada Soccer had to spend its own money to showcase national team games on TV, rather than allocating those funds to grassroots soccer.

CSB, in exchange for an annual payment of about $3-million to Canada Soccer, owns Canada Soccer’s sponsorship and broadcast rights and finances the male-only Canadian Premier League. Members of both national teams feel the deal puts a ceiling on Canada Soccer’s ability to capitalize off the success of its players.

Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane had testified earlier this month that the national governing body is working to update the deal with CSB, hoping to access incremental revenue and renegotiate the contract’s duration.

As had occurred at the first two hearings, questions covered multiple issues. MPs only had a few minutes each, to enable members of the different political parties to speak, and most had questions on different topics. The politicians also touched on the lack of transparency within the organization, which was alleged by four members of the women’s team when they testified.

Heffernen, the CFO, said Canada Soccer has now filed missing financial statements to Corporations Canada.

Peter Julian, committee member from the NDP, said Canadian families paying soccer fees deserve to know how the organization is spending funds.

“[Sinclair] said on March 9, Canada soccer’s approach on finances has reflected a culture of secrecy and obstruction,” Julian said. “I think it’s fair to say that this is a problem in terms of the finances and the lack of answers we’ve had today.”

Canada’s women’s side is ranked No. 6 in the world and preparing for the Women’s World Cup this summer. They have been without a labour contract since the last one expired at the end of 2021. The players agreed in principle with Canada Soccer on compensation for 2022 but are without a deal that address their other concerns. The women have said their participation in the April FIFA window – including a friendly in France – depends on significant progress in the negotiations.

The 53rd-ranked men, who late last year played in their first World Cup since 1986, are negotiating their first formal labour agreement.

All three parties are also discussing an overarching collective agreement that would ensure pay equity. Both teams have left the pitch in protest in the past 12 months – the men in June in Vancouver, the women in Orlando in February.

The soccer hearings are part of the heritage committee’s ongoing research on Safe Sport in Canada. Its MPs probed Hockey Canada executives in 2022, which led to changes in that organization’s leadership.

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