Federal government considers financial audit of Canada Soccer: sport minister

·3 min read

Canada's sport minister says the federal government is looking at the tools it can use to investigate Canada Soccer, including the potential for an audit of the organization's finances.

A decision on whether an audit will take place will be announced when the government is ready, Pascale St-Onge said.

"We're looking at ways that we can use our tools to look at what's happening to Soccer Canada," she told reporters in Ottawa. "We have questions about the finances of Soccer Canada."

The government previously ordered an audit in to Hockey Canada to investigate whether public funds were used to settle sexual assault cases.

The minister's statement comes after testimony from several former Canada Soccer officials and players to the Standing Committee on Heritage investigating safe sport.

But the committee wants a current representative to speak before it, prompting a unanimous motion from its members to compel president Charmaine Crooks to testify on Thursday.

"We have heard from many former presidents of Canada Soccer but we have not heard from the current president, Charmaine Crooks who is now running for re-election. I think that it is important we do so as quickly as possible given what occurred before the committee last week," said Liberal MP Anthony Housefather.

Crooks, a five-time Olympian, was named interim president of the sporting body in March replacing outgoing executive Nick Bontis. She has been on the Canada Soccer board since 2013-14 and was elected vice-president in November 2020.

Former players and former president Steven Reed appeared in front of the committee last week to speak about allegations of abuse by ex-coach Bob Birarda.

Birarda was hired by a B.C. community club after being let go from the women's teams of the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada Soccer after allegations of misconduct were made.

He was sentenced to nearly 16 months in jail in 2022 for sex offences that "immeasurably harmed" four female teenage athletes.

Former Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane previously testified to the committee defending a business deal that allows Canada Soccer Business, an independent entity, to oversee and retain funds from the marketing and broadcasting rights of the national teams in exchange for an annual payment to the soccer body.

Canada's women's soccer captain Christine Sinclair also delivered a scathing indictment of Canada Soccer before the committee in March citing a "culture of secrecy and obstruction."

"As the popularity, interest and growth of the women's game has swept the globe, our most painstaking battle has been with our own federation and trying to obtain fair and equitable treatment in the way we are supported and the way we are paid," Sinclair said at the time.

She also spoke of the preference given to the men's national team despite the women's team being more successful in recent years.

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on May 2, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press