Former Olympian Charmaine Crooks has been entrusted with helping steer Canada Soccer back to calmer waters.
The beleaguered governing body, under the microscope for its ongoing labour battle with the Olympic champion women and resurgent men’s team, named Crooks its interim president on Wednesday. She fills the void left by Nick Bontis. who resigned Monday, acknowledging “this moment requires change.”
Crooks faces a busy calendar and uncertain landscape.
Representatives of the Canadian women are due to give their side of the story to the parliamentary Heritage Committee on March 9 with Canada Soccer due up on March 20. And the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand kicks off July 20.
Both the men’s and women’s teams are negotiating collective bargaining agreements.
The women’s deal ran out at the end of 2021 while the men are working on their first formal deal, having banded together as the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association last year. The women organized under the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association in 2016.
The women have not been paid for their 2022 participation, an amount that hinges on what the men agree to, given both sides have agreed that pay equity is to be at the heart of the new agreements. That includes the US$9 million the men earned for their participation in Qatar.
The women want the same backing and preparation ahead of their World Cup this summer as the men did before Qatar.
The men’s and women’s teams have demanded Canada Soccer open its books, including its agreement with Canadian Soccer Business, which handles sponsorship and broadcast deals. And they want an explanation for why their programs are being cut this year, given the success of both teams on and off the field.
How long Crooks remains in charge will depend on elections at Canada Soccer’s annual general meeting in May. If she runs for the president’s position then, the term would be until the spring of 2024 which is when Bontis’ tenure was to expire.
She could also face opposition in the May election.
Crooks’ credentials are impressive.
A member of the Order of Canada, she is a five-time Olympian and silver medallist from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as a member of the 4x400-metre relay team. The first Canadian woman to run the 800 metres in under two minutes, Crooks has won gold medals at World Cups, the Pan American Games and the Commonwealth Games.
She has been on the Canada Soccer board since 2013-14 and was elected vice-president in November 2020. She has served on several Canada Soccer committees, including the emergency, strategic planning and risk management committees. She served as Canada’s head of delegation at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Canada 2014, the 2018 CONCACAF Women’s Championship, and the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Crooks was Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
“The job ahead for our organizations, our sport, and for the players who wear our Canadian jersey, is as important to me as any race I’ve competed in,” Crooks said in a statement. “I know and understand the calls to get this right, and I am certain that we will be able to deliver real progress for our national teams all the way on down to our grassroots.”
Crooks previously served as a board director with the Canadian Olympic Committee and member of the IOC Athletes Commission. She currently serves on the organizing committee for FIFA Competitions.
Canada Soccer noted Crooks is the first woman and the first person of colour to lead the organization.
With Crooks elevated to interim president, the Canada Soccer board named Kelly Brown as acting vice-president. Brown, executive vice-president at Arterra Wines Canada, was elected a Canada Soccer independent director in 2020.
Like Crooks, Brown would have to run for the VP job in May if she wanted to continue on in the role. If so, the term would run until the spring of 2025.
Both national teams have downed tools during the labour impasse.
Canada’s World Cup men’s team refused to play a planned exhibition against Panama last June at Vancouver, while the women played the SheBelieves Cup last month under protest after Canada Soccer threatened legal action saying the team was not in a legal position to strike at that time.
That argument will no longer be valid, given the Ontario labour standard that a legal strike or lockout may begin on the 17th day after a so-called no-board notice is issued. The sixth-ranked Canadian women are not scheduled to come together again until the April international window when they are slated to play No. 5 France on April 11 in Le Mans.
After April, there is just one more international window before the World Cup and that’s on the eve of the tournament.
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press