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Rick Westhead: Foundation registered to raise money for Canada Soccer sits idle

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In the fall of 2012, with Canada three years away from hosting the Women’s World Cup, the country buzzed with soccer talk.

The women’s national team had just won an unlikely Olympic bronze medal in London, only a year after finishing in last place at the World Cup in Germany, and the sport’s profile was as high as it had been in generations.

It was the perfect time, Rob Newman figured, for the national sports organization to start promoting the Canadian Soccer Foundation.

The not-for-profit foundation, which Newman had helped to create in 2010, had been intended to coax tax-deductible donations from the private sector and the public to support Canada Soccer – in particular its men’s and women’s national teams.

“There’s always been a challenge having enough funding to support those teams,” Newman, the chief executive officer of Sport BC, said in an interview with TSN. “It was obvious that sports like hockey had foundations and that significant dollars were being driven through them. And we thought, ‘Why not soccer?'”

Newman, a Canada Soccer board member from 2003-2012, said that he called Peter Montopoli, then the federation’s general secretary, and suggested it was time to start building up the then-two-year-old foundation.

“After the success of the women’s team in London, Peter was in favor and supportive,” said Newman. “We were excited. This could have provided additional funding to develop the youth program and support both the men’s and women’s national team.”

But by early 2015, Newman – who remains a board member of the foundation alongside Montopoli and former Canada Soccer president Dominic Maestracci – said he was surprised to discover that Canada Soccer intended to shut down the foundation.

“I was confused that a national sports organization would not be interested in having supporters try to assist them in raising dollars for the betterment of soccer in Canada,” said Newman. “Why would any organization be against that?”

Seven years have passed since the Canadian women’s national team hosted the soccer world and Newman and other current and former Canada Soccer employees and board members are still searching for an answer to that question.

Government records show that the Canadian Soccer Foundation, which exists only on paper and lists as its address the same Ottawa office where Canada Soccer is headquartered, was registered on June 30, 2010.

In the 12 years since its registration, the foundation has not raised a single dollar.

“I don’t understand why they have done nothing with the foundation for more than 10 years,” Maestracci said in an interview. “There are a lot of people who would want to give money.”

A year after the foundation was formed, Canada Soccer officials spent much of 2011 preparing for an election in May 2012 in which Victor Montagliani defeated Newman and Maestracci to become Canada Soccer’s president.

(Montagliani left his position with Canada Soccer in 2017 and is now a vice-president of FIFA and president of Concacaf, the 41-nation soccer confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean.)

Newman and Maestracci both believe that had the foundation been properly promoted in the wake of that election, the federation might have generated tens of millions of dollars by now, giving Canada Soccer a more stable financial foothold and putting it in a position to give players richer performance bonuses.

While Canada Soccer is poised to receive a $10 million bonus for the men’s national team qualifying for this year’s World Cup in Qatar, the federation has told players that it can’t pay them the after-tax payment equivalent to 40 percent of the coming payout because of a contract the organization signed in 2019 with a private and little-known company called Canada Soccer Business, men’s national team players said in interviews with TSN.

According to its 2021 annual financial statement, Canada Soccer generates about $33 million annually from sources including player fees ($5 million), commercial agreements ($18 million), and government and FIFA grants ($8.9 million).

Several former Canada Soccer board members said they have long envied the Hockey Canada Foundation, which was registered in 2000, and raises millions of dollars.

Hockey Canada’s foundation, meanwhile, received $8.2 million from 2016-2021 via gifts, donations, and from other charities and fundraising, according to its government filings. While Hockey Canada has 385,190 registered players, according to its 2020-21 annual report, Canada Soccer has 531,414 registered players, according to its 2021 annual report.

While not-for-profits in the health care and education sectors have historically established parallel foundations because they face fewer restrictions disbursing the money they raise, several other national sports organizations also have foundations.

Established in 1979, the Golf Canada Foundation has awarded $5.7 million in scholarships and grants to Canadian student athletes. In 2021, it raised $3.3 million, including $1.7 million from individual giving. Basketball Canada also has a foundation, which raised $113,957 in 2021.

Ryan Fequet, an environmental regulator in Yellowknife who was a Canada Soccer board member from 2007 until May of this year, said he’s upset that the Canadian Soccer Foundation has been idle for years.

“Having a foundation is a no-brainer,” Fequet said in an interview. “It’s absolutely absurd that we haven’t taken advantage of ours at all.”

Fequet said that during a Canada Soccer board meeting in early 2015, staff with the organization advised board members that the foundation was no longer active. While Fequet said he challenged that statement, pointing out that a government website showed the foundation was indeed active, staff told board members again that the foundation was no longer active.

“That wasn’t true,” Fequet said. “It was a tense situation…”

“My understanding is that the foundation was set up in 2010 as a separate legal entity to Canada Soccer, with its own board of directors,” Montagliani wrote in a statement to TSN. “I have never been a member of that Board, nor involved with the operations of the Foundation. During my time as President of Canada Soccer (2012-2017) I do not recall ever being asked to support the Foundation by any of its board members.”

Montagliani wrote that this “is a positive time” for soccer in Canada and “the focus of everyone involved in the sport should be on harnessing the positivity around our MNT and WNT for the benefit of future generations in Canada, and ensuring we capitalize on the once in a lifetime opportunity that 2026 will bring.”

Montopoli declined to comment.

In mid-June, after TSN began asking board members and Canada Soccer executives questions about the federation’s governance, Newman and Maestracci were contacted by an attorney with Canada Soccer’s Toronto law firm, Kelly Santini LLP, and asked to resign from their positions with the foundation’s board, Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane confirmed.

(A source said Canadian tax law has changed so much since 2010 that it would be extremely time consuming and expensive to try to fold the foundation and create a new one.)

Newman and Maestracci said they responded to Kelly Santini by asking whether Canada Soccer’s board had passed a motion requesting their resignations.

A lawyer with the firm told them he didn’t know, Newman and Maestracci said.

“There is no need for a formal board resolution to do this, but the decision and approach is known to the board,” Cochrane said.

Newman and Maestracci said they won’t agree to the federation’s request.

“There needs to be more scrutiny into what has happened here,” Newman said. “This was a lost opportunity for development dollars to be put towards the national teams. We volunteer our time for the betterment of the game and to make a difference. It’s just disappointing there could have been a difference made and there wasn’t.”