Dan Kruk, Janine (CanWNT & Portland Thorns) and Drew Beckie (Atletico Ottawa) and Marcel de Jong (photo credit Martin Mendizabal)
One year ago, two player unions became members of FIFPRO, while another was introduced as a candidate member. One year on, we look back with these three unions. This week, we speak with the Professional Footballers Association Canada (PFACan).
PFACan, led by president and former national team player Marcel de Jong and executive director Dan Kruk, had two specific goals at the outset: 1. Voluntary recognition by the Canadian Premier League in order to avoid a potentially acrimonious and public legal struggle and 2: begin collective bargaining as soon as possible to deliver the benefits and protections only a collective agreement can provide.
Despite PFACan being unable to gain voluntary recognition, progress is just around the corner, as last December, the Canadian Premier League (CPL) announced that they “agreed to enter into exploratory discussions with PFACan about a future collective bargaining relationship …” The message generated a lot of reactions. Numerous FIFPRO member unions and other player organisations such as the NBPA, NHLPA, and US Women’s National Team Players quickly congratulated PFACan.
Five months on, Kruk is still waiting for the CPL to start negotiations. “In early January, the league commissioner stepped down and the CPL has not appointed a new leader yet. Nevertheless, we expect to call for a meeting in the coming weeks.”
Finding a new commissioner shouldn’t have to be a problem, as Canadian football is on the rise with nearly one million registered players, the women’s team won gold at the Tokyo Olympics and the men’s national men’s team qualifed for the 2022 World Cup, the Premier League has proven itself as a viable competition. “Whoever takes on the job of Commissioner, they’ll oversee unprecedented growth on and off-the-pitch in terms of investment and interest.”
There is significant pressure on the league to respond to PFACan’s requests, said Kruk. “The player pool and the fans support us a lot. Fans were waving with our scarves at matches, players and supporters took selfies wearing our shirts.”
Being a FIFPRO candidate member made a huge difference, as according to Kruk, it cleared the way for Canadian Premier League players to take their place alongside fellow professional players around the world. “To be recognized as such by peers working in competitions like the English Premier League and the Australian women’s league (A-League) is a source of great moral support.”
“Moreover, being a part of FIFPRO makes clear our domestic top flight is indeed a part of the global football workplace. As next step in the professionalisation of that journey, it’s vital the voice of players is heard and done so through collective bargaining.”
Kruk added that PFACan is poised to secure collective bargaining rights either through voluntary recognition or through formal provincial labour board processes. This is partly made possible by the political and financial support of FIFPRO and the pro bono support of legal counsel Paul Champ.
Another important effect of being a FIFPRO candidate member is the relationships that Kruk, De Jong and PFACan managed to build. They have been introduced in Division America, and have contacted various member unions for information and advice.
“I'd like to make special mention of PFACan's relationship with the MLSPA and in particular its executive director, Bob Foose,” Kruk said. “The historical development of the Canadian football market has alternated between a reliance upon participation in American-based leagues and attempts to sustain a domestic competition. Since the arrival of Major League Soccer in Canada in 2007, the MLSPA has stood apart as the sole voice of our top professionals and has done a great service for them throughout the region. It's no exaggeration to say the MLSPA has set the standard for player conditions in Canada and the United States.”
“With that, I remain grateful for their presence and willingness to assist PFACan whenever called upon. Bob personally has been a great source of support and guidance. His help on-the-ground has been enormous as he's helped rally other player unions throughout North America to our side. He has arranged for Canada-based MLS club delegates to participate in PFACan-MLSPA solidarity events and so on, creating greater awareness of our cause throughout both our countries. For me, this is just one more example what candidate membership FIFPRO has brought us: true international solidarity among working athletes.”
In October 2021, PFACan signed a cooperation agreement with the Canadian Women Soccer Players’ Association. Kruk labelled it as a big moment, illustrated by the photo that was taken with siblings Janine and Drew Beckie, the first a Portland Thorns player and Olympic Gold Medal winner, the latter a defender for CPL team Atletico Ottawa. “Both unions pledged to work together, promoting players interest and ensuring that players have a voice in the sport.”
“As they support us in our fight for recognition, we would like to see a women’s competition in Canada, at least with the same working conditions and ideally with the same salary and benefits. That is what we should aspire too. Women’s football is exciting to watch and it deserves our support.”