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New Canada Soccer president promises transparency before skeptical Commons committee

Athlete and Olympian Charmaine Crooks who took over from former CSA president Nick Bontis when he resigned in February
Canadian Soccer Association president Charmaine Crooks during the May 11 Canadian Heritage committee hearing

The newly elected president of the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) testified to a House of Commons committee Thursday, promising a new era of openness at an organization that its top players say is notoriously secretive.

“Our team is working on making sure that all of our financial records and our minutes are posted publicly,” said Charmaine Crooks, who took over from Nick Bontis when he resigned in February. She will serve the remaining year of his term. 

Crooks did not say when those records would be published, however. 

The 60-year-old, Jamaica-born West Vancouverite won silver for Canada at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics in the 4 x 400 metre relay. She joined the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) athletes’ commission in 1996, was a full IOC member from 2000 to 2004 and sat on the board of VANOC, the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics organizing committee. 

Crooks joined the CSA board in 2013 and is also on FIFA’s organizing committee for competitions.

“I just want to be the type of president for the organization that gives back, that listens and truly engages all the partners, having had the opportunity to do that over the past few weeks,” said Crooks, who testified by webconference. “As I mentioned, trust, transparency and open communication, those are the things that I believe in.”

Committee members asked Crooks whether her company, NGU Consultants Inc., had received any contracts from FIFA (she denied); whether another West Vancouver resident, FIFA vice-president Victor Montagliani, aggressively campaigned to make her the CSA president (“To suggest that I'm in this role because somebody did something or said something I think is a real disservice,” she said); and whether she agreed with the lopsided deal that sold CSA broadcast and marketing rights to Canadian Soccer Business Inc. until at least 2027 (“We are currently looking at ways to modernize this agreement”).

Crooks distanced herself from the 2008 board, which included Montagliani and that negotiated coach Bob Birarda’s exit, despite allegations he sexually harassed national team and W-League Whitecaps players. Birarda was charged in late 2020, pleaded guilty in early 2022 and was jailed for 16 months last November for sexual assaults that occurred between 1988 and 2008. 

He had returned to coaching teenage girls’ soccer teams until former Whitecap Ciara McCormack blew the whistle in early 2019. Crooks said there was “immediate action” to close gaps in the coaching certification system in 2019, but said the organization continues to work on recommendations from University of Western Ontario sports law professor Richard McLaren’s damning 2022 report.  

“Our goal is to make this sport the safest in Canada,” Crooks said.

Crooks was asked about the CSA’s rollercoaster finances. It went from a $5.3 million surplus in 2021, when the women’s team won Olympic gold, to a $6.3 million deficit last year, when the men’s team returned to the World Cup for the first time since 1986. She said the difference was a board decision to adopt retroactive pay equity for the women’s team.

“Also, the costs from some recent men's national team matches have allowed us to be where we are now, not to mention the COVID-19 recovery, and also the very extensive travels that had to be taken over the past year for our respective teams to travel to World Cup and training competitions,” she said. 

In March, captain Christine Sinclair appeared in-person at a House of Commons committee, and welcomed a woman in the top role, but was unimpressed by Crooks’ board performance.

“During her tenure, she has shown nothing to the women’s national team that proves that she’s there fighting for us,” Sinclair said.

On Thursday, Conservative member Kevin Waugh (Saskatoon-Grasswood) bluntly stated “the national teams are absolutely pissed off with you and your organization.”

Crooks admitted that “what happened in the past was not perfect.”

“I acknowledge a lot of the historic hurts that have happened in the past with our athletes, but we are working to make it a better place,” she said. “All of us want to make Canada Soccer a better place. We've had challenges and we will continue to work through that.”

Crooks also said that she had seen many of the players and spoken to some of the alumni, but did not name them. 

The Canadian Heritage committee has also heard testimony from former presidents Montagliani, Bontis and Steven Reed and former general secretary Earl Cochrane, who all appeared by webconference. However, it has not called Peter Montopoli, who was the CSA’s general secretary in 2008 and is now the chief operating officer for the 2026 World Cup organizing committee in Canada. 

Also on Thursday, Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge announced new measures in a bid to quell widespread demands from athletes for a judicial inquiry into abuse and corruption in Canadian sport. She said Sport Canada would create a public registry of banned coaches, prohibit non-disclosure agreements, and oversee sport organizations to make them more accountable and transparent.