Fans wearing red and white Canadian national team soccer jerseys and carrying flags and signs were left crestfallen at the gates of BC Place in Vancouver Sunday after a friendly match with Panama was abruptly called off.
“I mean we just got to the World Cup, a match in Vancouver and we get to finally see some excitement for the beautiful game in our country and this is what happens?” said Danny Bromley, who was at the downtown arena with his young son to see the match.
They had driven more than an hour from Chilliwack, east of Vancouver, to see the men’s national team play. It would have been the first time the team played in Vancouver since March of 2019.
But the men’s soccer team refused to play the World Cup warm-up match because of a contract dispute between the players and the sport’s national governing body.
“It’s just not a good look,” said Bromley.
Alex Linning, along with his dad, mom and two brothers traveled to Vancouver from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island — which takes nearly four hours and includes a ferry ride — to see the Canada’s men’s national soccer team in action.
After learning the game was cancelled, the family sat in front of BC Place with their soccer jerseys and signs they had brought to cheer on the team.
“Disappointed,” said Linning. “I just wish they would have canceled a little bit sooner.”
‘Go home disappointed’
Kiola Werner also came from Vancouver Island to see the team, only to learn the game was canceled two hours ahead of the opening whistle.
“There are a lot of other people who came from Vancouver Island as well,” he said. “So, I guess we gotta go home disappointed.”
The men’s team had been on a high since clinching a spot in the biggest soccer tournament in the world in March for the first time since 1986. Since then, Canada Soccer has been dogged by missteps.
The governing body had originally booked Iran for a friendly game at BC Place on Sunday, but after criticism and political pressure, canceled that match and brought to Panama.
More than 40,000 tickets for the Canada-Iran game had been sold.
Leading up to the Canada-Panama friendly, training sessions were scrapped as compensation talks continued between the two sides.
The players said they want more transparency from Canada Soccer, changes in the organization’s leadership, and World Cup compensation that includes 40 per cent of prize money and a “comprehensive friends and family package” for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
On Sunday, Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis say the players’ proposal is not financially viable.
At BC Place on Sunday, some fans were more sympathetic than others. VJ Setlur came from Toronto to see the game. He said he was disappointed it was cancelled, but hoped the two sides could reach an agreement now rather than in November, when the World Cup begins.
“It’s unfortunate for the fans but they have to get this resolved and whatever needs to happen for that to occur, that’s the best course,” Setlur said.
Canada, ranked 38th in the world, is scheduled to kick off CONCACAF Nations League play against No. 79 Curacao in Vancouver on June 9, but it’s unclear if that match will proceed.
Canada is set to open this World Cup on Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium before facing No. 16 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 24 Morocco on Dec. 1.