Nick Bontis Testifies Before Heritage Committee
On Thursday afternoon after delaying his testimony due to personal issues we heard from Nick Bontis in the nation’s capital, along with Victor Montagliani, and Sean Heffernan.
Once again the Committee was tasked with finding out exactly what happened in this ongoing labour dispute with the players, and we finally got to hear from former Canada Soccer President Nick Bontis.
Bontis made an opening statement in which he recounts that he doesn’t remember what exactly he said to Christine Sinclair, but said he didn’t dispute it and that he had reached out to apologize.
“While I do not recall using the language she referenced, I don’t dispute it, and my exact choice of words is not the point,” he said. “What matters is that she felt that I treated her concerns disrespectfully. I feel terrible for making her feel this way… It was a mistake, I take responsibility for it, and I regret it.”
For the past year, someone was harassing Bontis and his family and it got so serious that he actually had a panic button under his desk at his McMaster University workplace.
The individual who has harassing him was charged but while waiting for the hearing decided to take his own life due to mental issues which hit Bontis hard emotionally. This is what caused the delay of his testimony, and he had difficulty talking about it.
Bontis was joined by Canada Soccer CFO Sean Heffernan and Concacaf President Victor Montagliani, who used to be the Canada Soccer President from 2012-17.
He also recounts how the 13 provincial presidents demanded his resignation while with the U-17 players at a tournament in Guatemala, and asked for a private meeting to find out why they wanted him out.
That meeting never happened: Bontis said he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to give his side of the story and ultimately resigned from his position.
“I asked for reasons,” Bontis said. “I wanted an explicit opportunity to actually have both them explain it to me, and for me to explain where we were at in addition to my presidency. I was not afforded that opportunity. At that point I tendered my resignation.”
The meeting got pretty dicey at one point as Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, under a time constraint, asked for a clear number of their salary. Bontis, Montagliani, and Heffernan who refused to answer.
“The issue is that the organization that I am the president of has a policy with respect to not disclosing that number,” Montagliani said, pointing to ‘security and safety issues throughout our confederation’.
“I’m uncomfortable in sharing that number for privacy reasons,” Bontis had said when asked.
The three of them were asked about Canada Soccer’s media and sponsorship contract with Canada Soccer Business.
In that deal, Canada Soccer pays a guaranteed fee annually between 2019-27 in exchange to sell both broadcasting rights and corporate sponsorships rights for both the men and the women. In a contract obtained by TSN, In 2019 that fee was three million dollars.
In last week’s meeting, Canada Soccer board member Paul-Claude Berube confirmed CSB generated $8.2 million in sponsorships.
The CSB deal gives a guaranteed amount each year that goes up topping off at $ 3.5 million in 2027 which was signed by the president at the time Steve Reed and it states it has the right to extend another 10 years.
From 2028-2037 the fee is $ 4 million dollars and the contract was defended by Montagliani.
“The lack of interest and support from media corporations meant that Canada Soccer had to spend its own money for our women’s and men’s national teams to be shown on networks such as TSN, Rogers and CBC rather than allocating that to the grassroots,” he explained.
“…of course, Canadian corporations are private entities and can make choices as they wish. But it was obvious when I was president of Canada Soccer that we needed to take a different route and seek out new commercial partners – not only to encourage investment but to encourage ambition. That meant looking beyond the usual suspects to find new, more dynamic partners with the appetite and willingness to build domestic football for the long term.”
NDP MP Peter Julian put pressure on Nick Bontis for the issue with the $11,000 suits. Bontis defended that as well saying it needed to be done.
“I can confirm that a couple years back, when I was elected president, that I had been wearing a suit that was issued to me for 10 full years,” Bontis said. “The suit was in very bad shape. We travel a lot as directors. I think I wore it on average 30 times a year over 10 years – that’s 300 times. It was shredded, it was in disrepair.”
“…the suits were for all 14 directors of the board and they amounted to $791.00 dollars each. The suits were custom suits with Canada Soccer branding.”
After the meeting, I had a chance to question Julian on whether he thinks Canada Soccer should just consider doing what Hockey Canada did and clean house and have a fresh start.
“It’s fair to say people have a lot of concerns”, he said. “They have two doors: either a fresh start as we saw with Hockey Canada or answering wholesomely and now we have had a couple of sessions where the witnesses have not been forthcoming.”
The constituents will have a two-week break and will reconvene to discuss the next steps.