What do you call it when a national sports body secretly accepts private funding from the owner of a sports team and uses it to induce national-team players under its jurisdiction to act in ways favourable to that sports team? I call it corruption.
It appears from news reports this week that Greg Kerfoot, the publicity-shy multi-millionaire owner of the current USL First Division Champions Vancouver Whitecaps and its women's team (also called the Whitecaps), provided funding to the Canadian Soccer Association to pay for a residency program that would keep women's national team players in Vancouver while training for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Carded national team members receive a token amount of funding from Sport Canada. The residency program funded by Kerfoot (also known as the "Full Time player program") augments that income by $20,000 a year - more than doubling it. But the residency program also makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the national team players to play for any team in the W-League (the highest level of women's soccer in North America) except the Vancouver Whitecaps. So the more national team players who are induced to move to Vancouver in exchange for the $20,000, the more Kerfoot's team benefits as against other W-League teams.
Several women's national team members have already moved to Vancouver and now dominate the roster of the Whitecaps. But some top players have strong ties to other cities and other W-League teams, and have resisted the pressure to move to Vancouver and play for the 'Caps.
National team captain Charmaine Hooper has settled in Chicago, where she used to play for the now-defunct Cobras of the W-League and now plays for the New Jersey Wildcats. Hooper, who has 131 caps and 71 international goals (both national team records), was initiallly hesitant to move to Vancouver without some conditions attached. She was about to fly to Vancouver to assess the prospects of moving there when her Kerfoot funding was cut off. When she protested by refusing to appear for a friendly match against China she was suspended indefinitely from the national team. The team is just about to play key qualifying matches next month for the 2007 World Cup. She now says she will never play for Canada again as long as Even Pellerud is coach.
Kerfoot, by the way, is Pellerud's landlord for the $6.5 million home in Vancouver where he lives. Pellerud won't say how much rent he pays to Kerfoot.
Canadian striker Christine Latham and defender Sharolta Nonen play for the W-League Atlanta Silverbacks. Latham didn't want to move to Vancouver either, despite extreme pressure from Pellerud. Pellerud even went so far as to urge Latham to break her contract with Atlanta and switch to the Whitecaps.
Nonen, who had originally agreed to the Vancouver move, backed out of the residency program in solidarity with Hooper and Latham. All three players refused to appear in St. John's Nfld. for the two friendlies against China in August, by way of protesting against having their Kerfoot funding withdrawn; Pellerud retaliated by suspending them from the team indefinitely.
This is not the first time the CSA has used its hold over national team players to influence the course of events in the W-League. Last July there was a friendly match between Canada and the USA that conflicted with a W-League playoff game between the Ottawa Fury and Hooper's New Jersey Wildcats. The New Jersey goalkeeper, Karina LeBlanc, is also a Canadian international. Four national team members who play for Ottawa were excused by Pellerud from international duty for the friendly against USA; but he refused to excuse Hooper and LeBlanc, who both therefore had to miss the W-League playoff match. New Jersey lost the match, and was eliminated from the playoffs. Meanwhile Pellerud kept LeBlanc on the bench for the international friendly.
Needless to say the New Jersey Wildcats were not happy. At the time, it seemed rather far-fetched to suggest that the CSA had deliberately acted so as to favour the Ottawa-based team against the New Jersey team, but in light of the latest revelations about the CSA pimping for the Whitecaps, it doesn't seem so unlikely any more.
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