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De Jong Touches On CPL Salary Issues: ‘It’s Embarrassing’

By on February 23, 2021 0 3274 Views

Speaking on the A Kick In The Grass podcast last night, Pacific FC Captain and PFA Canada President Marcel de Jong joined the hosts for a discussion about player salaries and unionization in the Canadian Premier League.

It’s been a hot-button topic ever since it was sparked by the early retirement of Dylan Carreiro earlier this month, with PFA Canada – who hope to collectively bargain on behalf of CPL athletes – becoming a candidate member of a global players’ union federation shortly after that.

Marcel was complimentary of how the Canadian Premier League put together The Island Games, which allowed the 2020 CPL season to take place in a condensed bubble tournament in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. All eight teams competed in the summertime tournament without any positive COVID-19 cases, with Forge FC ultimately defending its title for the second year running.

Like other CPL athletes, however, Marcel wished there was some communication regarding the 25% salary deferral that later became a permanent cut. Most CPL athletes found out about the news through Twitter rather than their own clubs, who were blindsided by the quickness of the announcement. It was later claimed that the CPL asked for and received additional government funding as pandemic relief, but still opted to keep the 25% it had taken from player salaries and coaching staff.

That lack of communication is what prompted PFA Canada to publicly unveil itself in the first place, with the union’s momentum prompting Clanachan to say twice (once publicly just ahead of The Island Games, and once privately with players during the season) that the league would open discussions following the tournament.

Like PFA Canada Executive Director Dan Kruk told us, however, de Jong echoes that there has been nil communication on that front. It’s now been some 157 since the bubble tournament finished, with the 2021 Canadian Premier League season just about three months away now.

He did promise us that we can reach out and go from there, and we did reach out to him in a formal way, but we are still waiting for that email back.

Marcel de Jong

On the other end of things, the league has remained quiet amidst the discussion of player wages. After the bubble tournament came and went, it quietly let go of some its executives like Eva Havaris and Michael Findlay, both of whom have now secured football jobs outside of the league office. The league’s only large announcement has been to announce the tentative kickoff date of the 2021 Canadian Premier League season, which it hopes will allow for home markets and, thus, crucial gate revenue.

With Concacaf introducing a new structure to the Champions League that will feature two Canadian Premier League sides starting in the 2023-2024 season, the continental football body is clearly confident in the domestic league’s overall health. Clanachan had also assured fans last year that the league would still be here after the pandemic, with the league still appearing quite stable after making the financial cuts that it has.

It was earlier this month that PFA Canada estimated that the average CPL club underspends its salary cap by about 33%. De Jong expresses that the players don’t object to the salary cap itself, which was put in place to ensure responsible salary expenditure from clubs in a growing league. Rather, he suggests that the players want a salary floor to avoid poverty wages and a requirement for alternative jobs.

They’re not even close to spending their entire salary caps. That’s the club’s right, and I get it, but we do wish the players were earning a little bit more money than below average wage. It’s embarrassing, to be honest. It’s not right. Players should be paid in a good way, with all due respect, but it’s important that players are fully focusing on playing instead of worrying about paying their bills and, in the off-season, leaving their club so they can go back to their parent’s place and live there for 3-4 months so they can save some money. That’s just wrong. They’re all young adults who should be able to take care of themselves.

Marcel de Jong

It’s already known that several players secure secondary jobs in the off-season to make ends meet, with construction, renovation, general labour, and office-based work having already been disclosed as secondary jobs for some CPL athletes, while others go on unemployment insurance.

It’s a byproduct of contracts that don’t run a full calendar year, with most CPL contracts running from March to November. As one anonymous CPL athlete put it, he hopes to see that change sooner rather than later, stating that we’ll likely see more athletes stepping away from the game to pursue more reliable career paths if the changes didn’t come.

Beyond Carreiro, this offseason has seen the likes of Luca Gasparotto, Dean Northover, Ajay Khabra, and Jason Beaulieu leave the game early to pursue careers elsewhere.

While contracts that run the length of the offseason are a talking point, Marcel’s focus is on the salary floor: with many of the league’s athletes making under $22,000 per year (and with some as low as $10,000), the PFA Canada President says that the money just isn’t there for them to focus solely on the game.

We just have an issue with a lack of a salary floor. At the end of the day, they’re professional athletes and they can’t just go ‘tonight let’s just have bread and milk’, you know what I mean, instead of having a good meal, resting their bodies, and having the right nutrition.

Marcel de Jong

When asked what that salary floor should be, De Jong didn’t have an immediate answer. He did eventually suggest that twenty dollars an hour is more reasonable, which equates to about $39,000 a year on a full-time basis. That’s much higher than the assumed average at the present, and it’s likely going to be a long time before those kind of figures are the norm. In our own discussions with over a dozen CPL athletes, none of the ones who disclosed their salary made that amount, and that includes some starters in the league.

On the flip side of things, the Canadian Premier League likely relies heavily on gate revenue, and it saw none of that last year. While it’s hopeful for home markets in the upcoming season, the pandemic has more than likely stymied progress for player finance discussions. Even stateside, MLS athletes with union representation saw the league evoke a force majeure due to the pandemic, with MLS coming out of those negotiations a clear overall winner.

Up north, Marcel de Jong emphasizes that the sentiment isn’t CPL athletes versus the the league: he says that their ultimately goal is to work together with the league and help the Canadian Premier League grow in a responsible manner. To do that, of course, the league would need to open discussions with the union, and thus far there’s no news on that front.

In our talks with CPL athletes, there’s a split on whether they think that first step will happen this year or not.

Source: A Kick In The Grass Podcast

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