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Opinion: Pressure building on Canadian Premier League to recognize PFACan union

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On Wednesday, the Professional Footballers Association Canada (PFACan) announced it had been granted official candidate membership by International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPRO), football’s global players’ union. But the Canadian Premier League (CPL), where most of PFACan’s player members compete, is yet to recognize the Canadian soccer players’ union.

PFACan’s new FIFPRO candidate membership is significant. And it bolsters the union’s efforts for legitimacy after announcing itself as Canada’s first union for both female and male soccer players last April.

But will the union’s FIFPRO candidate membership finally pressure the CPL into formally recognizing the Professional Footballers Association Canada?

The CPL may have wanted to hold off on making any decisions related to the PFACan until the league and economy had begun to recover from the pandemic. But the significance of Wednesday’s FIFPRO announcement likely requires, at the very least, official acknowledgement.

Canadian Premier League yet to recognize PFACan

CPL commissioner David Clanachan has previously stated he wasn’t sure the league’s players need a union.

“The reality is if you have a good relationship with your management, there’s no need for a third party to get in between the two of you and create problems wither there isn’t any problems,” Clanachan told The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke in April 2020. “I understand the need in some areas for unions, but I don’t believe it’s needed if you have a good dialogue, you have common goals, you work well together.”

But the union, players and some fans have questioned the league’s unwillingness to recognize the players’ union. Reportedly low wages for CPL players are among the major concerns cited by union officials.

In an article on the FIFPRO website, PFACan executive director Dan Kruk said more than half the CPL’s players are making less than $22,000 per year.

“That is insane, that is minimum wage in many cases,” said Kruk. “To be honest, I don’t know how some players get by.”

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The PFACan claims over 90 per cent of CPL players have signed on as union members but says all union requests for a meeting with the league have been ignored to date.

“We want to give the players a voice and we want to be consulted on decisions that are important for players,” said union legal counsel Paul Champ in the same story. “We are really looking forward to negotiating the first collective agreement for footballers in Canada.”

Canadian Premier League’s uncertain future

The CPL is in a difficult situation and has an uncertain future, having been financially strangled by a crippling global pandemic that arrived one year after the league’s launch.

The CPL and its clubs will have anticipated acceptable financial losses over the first few years of existence. But the league will have lost much more money due to the pandemic.

The league and its clubs earned no ticket revenue for year-two. The CPL admirably held an isolated no-fans two-month-long tournament on Prince Edward Island in 2020. But with no fans, The Island Games financial rewards will have been limited.

The CPL recently announced the good news that it is targeting a May start for the 2021 season. But the league is likely to see very little ticket revenue for much of year-three as some, or all, COVID-19 restrictions will still be in place at kickoff and for some time beyond.

Canadian Premier LEague, CPL commissioner David Clanachan.

Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan.

So, how does a brand-new league that relies so heavily on gate receipts survive under such pandemic-caused restrictions? That’s the question the CPL and its clubs will be prioritizing. And they may suggest the players’ interests lie within the possible solution of a collective belt-tightening.

But by not officially recognizing a union, who has now joined the world’s top soccer players’ organization boasting member unions in such nations as England, Italy, Spain and France, the CPL might only be delaying the inevitable while also damaging its public image.


About Author

Photographer and Writer | Stuart Gradon is soccer journalist and web communications professional. He covers Cavalry FC of the Canadian Premier League and Canada's national teams. He has also worked on assignment at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015 and FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010.

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