For two hours on Thursday afternoon, four senior members of Canada’s national women’s soccer team testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage and took turns condemning Canada Soccer for allegedly disrespecting the women’s national team and drastically cutting its budget.

Star striker Christine Sinclair said in her opening statement that Canada Soccer’s approach to negotiating with its players “has reflected a culture of secrecy and obstruction.”

“As the popularity, interest and growth of the women’s game have swept the globe, our most painstaking battle has been with our own federation and trying to obtain fair and equitable treatment in the way we are supported and the way we are paid,” she said.

Sinclair, Janine Beckie, Sophie Schmidt, and Quinn were invited to Ottawa to testify about their ongoing labour dispute with Canada Soccer, which attracted public attention last month after the team said it was going on strike less than a week before they were scheduled to play in the SheBelieves Cup over pay equity issues and budget cuts.

The players returned to the field a day later, saying Canada Soccer had threatened to sue both the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association (CPSA) and the players who were attending a team camp in Florida.

Sinclair told the hearing about a negotiating session last year with then-Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis, who resigned on Feb. 27.

“On a personal note, I’ve never been more insulted than I was by Canada Soccer’s own president, Nick Bontis, last year as we met with him to discuss our concerns,” she said. “I was tasked with outlining our compensation ask on behalf of the women’s national team. The president of Canada Soccer listened to what I had to say, and then later referred back to it as, quote ‘What was it Christine was bitching about?’

“To me, this spoke volumes about the lack of respect Canada Soccer has for its women’s national team. As a team, we do not trust Canada Soccer to be open and honest as we continue to negotiate for not only fair and equitable compensation and treatment, but for the future of our program.”

The players’ testimony on Thursday came days after Canada Soccer reached an interim agreement with the women’s national team over pay for 2022.

Hours before the hearing began, Canada Soccer published details of what the federation said was a part of its contract offer to the women’s national team, an offer Canada Soccer said has been in front of the women since June 2022.

Sinclair said that some of the details included in Canada Soccer’s news release had not previously been shared with the players.

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh said it was “disgusting” for Canada Soccer to make public details from its purported offer shortly before the hearing.

“We feel quite disrespected by the way they went about their business,” Beckie said of the release. “But we also don’t feel that it’s the right place to stoop down to that level, if you will. We’re here to speak about this issue, and we believe that what was talked about in good-faith bargaining between our players’ association and the association should have stayed between the players’ association and the Canadian Soccer Association. We feel quite disrespected that it wasn’t respected that it stayed behind closed doors before that agreement was actually signed. There were terms and numbers and pieces of what was in their statement today that has not even been communicated to us. So, that was a bit of a shock to us.

“We have been successful not because of our federation, but actually in spite of our federation for so many years. We are so sick and tired… of having to scratch and claw for transparency.”

The players also testified that they want details of Canada Soccer’s media and sponsorship contract with Canadian Soccer Business, a private company that is owned and operated by the owners of Canadian Premier League teams. The CPL is Canada’s first domestic men’s professional soccer league.

The agreement obliges CSB to pay a guaranteed fee to Canada Soccer annually between 2019 and 2027 in exchange for the rights to sell both broadcasting and corporate sponsorship rights to the men’s and women’s national teams.

In 2019, that fee was $3 million, according to a copy of the contract obtained by TSN. The guarantee climbs each year, topping out at $3.5 million in 2027. The contract, which is signed by Steve Reed (Canada Soccer’s president from 2017-20), says CSB has the right to extend the deal for an additional 10 years and if it triggers that extension, must pay Canada Soccer at least $4 million per year from 2028 to 2037.

While Canada Soccer keeps all ticket revenue from national team matches staged in Canada, the contract says CSB keeps all revenue from sponsorships.

“This was our own association blatantly betting against the success of its national teams,” Beckie testified. “We don’t know why Canada Soccer did this deal. Either they had no idea it was a terrible deal for Canada Soccer or they knew it was a terrible deal and they did it anyway. Each of these options is unthinkable.”

Schmidt testified about cuts to the youth national team programs, while Quinn spoke to the hearing about how cutbacks have affected players’ medical care.

“[Budget cuts] compromise our training, our rehabilitation and our preparation,” Quinn said. “It means we as players sometimes have to make choices about which medical treatments to receive when staff physiotherapists are stretched…”

Players were also asked if they have confidence in Canada Soccer’s leadership. Sinclair and Quinn said they do not have faith in acting president Charmaine Crooks, who was appointed to that position on March 1 after Bontis’ exit.

“Obviously, being females we appreciate seeing Charmaine in [that] position,” Sinclair said. “However, she has been part of the higher-ups in Canada Soccer for a long time and during her tenure she has shown nothing to the women’s national team that proves she’s there fighting for us. In fact, since she’s been elected president she’s not reached out. Her first action involving the women’s national team was to release that statement earlier today.”

Quinn testified that after an official from Sport minister Pascale St-Onge’s office reached out to discuss with players the possibility of a government audit of Canada Soccer, the players did not respond. FIFA has rules about government interference and players worried about the possibility of Canada being kicked out of this summer’s World Cup, Quinn said.

Several MPs asked players who else the committee should summon as witnesses as it continues to investigate Canada Soccer. 

While the committee has been given Canada Soccer’s contract with CSB, it was not able to be used during Thursday’s testimony because it has not yet been translated into French, a source said.

Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane and Bontis are expected to be called to testify on March 20, the source said, adding that it’s likely there will be more hearings scrutinizing Canada Soccer in the near future.

Sinclair said anyone involved in negotiating Canada Soccer’s contract with CSB should be called, along with Canada Soccer board members who approved the deal.

When Liberal MP Anthony Housefather asked the players if the committee should call former Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani, who is now a FIFA vice-president, the players collectively said yes.