The best laid schemes o’ mice and men often go awry. – Robert Burns
It is April 23rd, and the 2020 Canadian Premier League season should be heading towards it’s third weekend of play, with supporters coast to coast gathering in pubs and stadiums to celebrate their clubs and local soccer. However, due to the COVID19 pandemic, all these plans have gone awry, leaving the global economy, and with it, the Canadian Premier League in a precarious situation. The fledging league had built a strong base from which its second season could take off, and if proper action is taken to limit the financial strain on the league, and its member clubs, that base could remain intact.
The need for a PFA
It remains to be seen how or when the League will begin play in 2020 or if the they will even be able to kick off at all due to social distancing measures. In the meantime, the League has been forced to take financial measures to ensure the short-term economic viability of its clubs through this pandemic. On April 13th, David Clanachan, CPL Commissioner, announced that all staff would receive wage reductions during the crisis and players would be given a 25% wage deferral for an unspecified amount of time.
On April 7th, a week prior to Clanachan’s statement, FIFA had given guidelines to leagues, clubs and players around the world on how to deal with the pandemic. Among these guidelines, it stated “FIFA strongly encourages clubs and players to work together to find agreements and solutions during the period when football is suspended.” The issue for many CPL players is the guidelines from FIFA suggest that leagues and clubs cannot simply inform players their wages will be deferred but rather must work together to develop an agreement. If they are unable to reach an agreement, a case can be brought to FIFA. The first factor FIFA will examine is “whether there was a genuine attempt by the club to reach agreement with the players.” In terms of the CPL, it appears they made a public statement about wage deferrals prior to any agreement between clubs and players being made. This created confusion and uncertainty for many players who were unsure of precisely what FIFA’s guidelines consisted of, as well as, their rights as players. Cue the entrance of the Professional Footballers Association of Canada, or PFACan, a union to represent players in this type of situation
What the PFA can provide
It is important to note the PFA has been in the works long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the CPL was aware of the groundwork already laid by players. Unfortunately, the pandemic and the League’s response to it have created an urgency for player representation and brought it to the forefront of Canadian soccer. Thus, the PFA took the decision to launch earlier than anticipated in order to ensure players and the League work together for the best outcome for all parties.In an ideal world, which we are obviously not in right now, the PFA would provide many services for players. Paul Champ, legal counsel for the PFA told NSXI, “PFACan’s main goal for CPL players is to provide representation and secure a league-wide collective agreement with standard terms and conditions”. Champ went on to say “Players will still negotiate with clubs for their own individual compensation and contract duration, as you see in other professional sports leagues. We also want to assist players through programs and resources for issues like mental health, sponsorship benefit and discount program, and post-career advice and assistance.”
The vision for the PFA does not end there said Champ, “We also want to provide the connection to the international footballers movement so players in Canada can have a voice at the international stage with FIFA and other bodies. That’s the vision, but we have to take it one step at a time.” It appears then, the PFA would not only provide players with a collective agreement but many vital services that will help take care of players, give them the resources to support themselves, and work towards post-career goals. However, this is on hold for now because the current focus for the PFA must be to ensure players, clubs and their supporters come out of this pandemic as strong as possible.
PFA, the League and COVID19.
There is no doubt when people hear a union is forming, with intentions to form a collective agreement, they may be skeptical considering the timing. However, Paul Champ assured NSXI that a collective agreement is not in the plans for this season, and the PFA has very specific plans to ensure the CPL, clubs and players come through this pandemic united.
“To be honest, a collective agreement isn’t part of our objectives this season with CPL.” Champ said. “We just want to work together with the League to ensure it can escape this season on a positive financial footing and maintain a relationship with the fans.” Many people have been quick to assume the PFA’s timing of their launch suggests players are just trying to further their own cause; but Paul Champ’s comments demonstrate the PFA’s desire to work with the League, not against them.
There is a strong belief that by working together with the League, the PFA may be able to fight in the League’s corner as they look for economic help through this difficult period. “We are also hoping the CPL will get some financial assistance – they need it!” Champ said “COVID-19 has hit sports leagues so hard, and gate-driven leagues like the CPL are going to have the hardest time recovering. We want to partner with CPL to share our story with the government, to explain that the CPL isn’t just a business; it has significant social and cultural value.”
Finally, the PFA wants to look out for its own members by ensuring a united front and positive dialogue with the League through this very unique situation. “We also want to have a dialogue with the league about any decisions affecting training or compensation. Players understand that the league has massive revenue issues right now and there needs to be flexibility. But FIFA has been clear that leagues cannot unilaterally cut pay or benefits. Clubs have an obligation to discuss with players, and the PFA can provide that single point of contact for the League.”
It will be vital for the PFA and the CPL to work together, hand in hand, for the best possible outcome from this unprecedented situation. There are critics in the media and on social media who seem set to drive a wedge between the League and its players, with veiled threats and suggestions of ulterior motives. In spite of this, reality suggests that players are forming a united front to protect their rights but also to ensure the CPL comes out of this on a strong footing, ready to return when the time comes.
The mention of unions can often bring an unwanted political tone into the discussion, as people’s minds instantly go to NHL or MLB lockouts, strikes and Jimmy Hoffa. It is important though, to put aside any preconceived prejudices and understand that while the League and its clubs debate the legalities and future of the League; it is only fair the players have a voice, a point of contact and, hopefully soon, a seat at the table where decisions are made.
At the end of the day, we are all on the same page, supporters, players, clubs and league – we want the CPL to weather the storm the best it can and return to benefiting Canadian soccer as a whole when life returns to normal. By staying united, working together and pushing for the same outcome, the league will be given its best opportunity to emerge from this crisis on the correct footing. The PFA was very clear on one matter – “We are in this together.”