More media comment:
Soccer association must die, says angry Linford
, August 29, 2007
by Cathal Kelly
Outgoing president Colin Linford called for the "disbanding" of the Canadian Soccer Association yesterday and blasted its culture of amateurism.
"I don't know if `bitter' is the right word," Linford said of his state of mind. "Frustration. Betrayed, certainly, by a number of people within the organization."
Fifteen months into a four-year term, Linford submitted his resignation on Monday morning. Hours later, a friend called to tell him that his professional demise was being discussed on Internet chat boards. Linford believes a member of the board of directors leaked the news.
"This organization needs disbanding," the English-born Linford said with finality. "We do not have enough people who can make decisions based on what is good for the (national) association and not what is good for them."
A retired tool-and-die maker and former head of the Ontario Soccer Association, Linford was unanimously elected to head the CSA in May, 2006. He arrived at a moment of seeming optimism – just ahead of the birth of Toronto FC, the hosting of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2007 women's World Cup, in which Canada hopes to excel.
He made bold promises about the senior men's team qualifying for the 2010 World Cup after a 24-year drought and instituting a "culture of change" in the CSA.
That initially excited his colleagues on the board, as the overwhelming vote attests. But ...
"It suddenly became apparent to many of these people that those changes ... would take some of them out of the decision making," Linford said.
According to him, the result was 15 months of clashes.
"It's an experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy," he said.
"We wish him all the best, but I can't comment on anything Colin has said," CSA spokesperson Richard Scott
The CSA will choose its next president at its annual general meeting in October.
Arrayed against Linford were his 19 colleagues on the CSA's board of directors – several national representatives plus one for each province and territory. The board is comprised of volunteers, like Linford, but can overrule decisions taken by the men and women hired to run the CSA.
From the beginning, Linford favoured a strong, salaried executive that could create a national strategy. Instead, he said, he was surrounded by regionalism.
"As a volunteer you have no accountability. You can walk away," Linford said.
This friction exploded into the headlines last spring over the botched hiring of a men's national team coach.
Linford headed a search committee that settled on Brazilian Rene Simoes
, the manager who led Jamaica to an unlikely World Cup appearance in 1998.
But the board chafed at Simoes' insistence that he bring Brazilian coaches along with him. Instead, the board chose former Canadian international and men's under-20 coach Dale Mitchell
to run the national team.
"I have nothing against Dale Mitchell. I think he's a good coach," Linford said. "But I think that he would have benefited immensely from being in an area where he could watch and listen and benefit from the experience of a Rene Simoes."
It was déjà vu for Linford when a second search committee recently went looking for a CEO to take charge of the CSA.
"We found the best person (Fred Nykamp
). We even put him on TV as the next person to take over," Linford said. "But now that has not been approved by the board."
Was that the straw that broke the camel's back?
"Well, it certainly didn't help."
His brief tenure has left Linford angry and disillusioned. Despite decades of involvement with soccer as a coach and administrator, he says he's through with the sport.
"Am I being harsh? No," said Linford. "I'm being a realist."
Linford left with no conciliatory parting words for his former colleagues.
"Until these people are making decisions based on what is good for the game – not good for them or their province – you're not going to move the game forward."
Nor does he have any words of advice for his successor.
"I wouldn't know what to tell him, to be honest."
And Stephen Brunt picks up on my "rudderless ship" simile (above):
To the barricades, it's time for change
By Stephen Brunt
Globe and Mail
, August 30, 2007
Perhaps the revolution is at hand.
It has certainly felt that way since news broke this week of Colin Linford's resignation as president of the Canadian Soccer Association after a mere 15 months on the job.
Message boards were burning up, e-mails were flying, suggestions were made that it's time to cut the CSA's financial lifeline, tear down the walls, topple the ruling board of directors and start all over again.
Normally, you'd like to be able to argue in favour of a more positive, constructive course.
But given the farce of the past few months, given the fact Linford says without qualification that the CSA as currently constructed just can't work ... well, maybe it's time to head for the barricades.
The sad part is that this is in many ways a golden age for the sport in Canada. Toronto FC, despite recent woes on the field, has been a remarkable hit, with the best home crowds in Major League Soccer. The under-20 World Cup, aside from the home team's dismal performance, was an unqualified success, silencing those who had cynically predicted its failure.
Next month, the Canadian women head for the World Cup in China with a realistic chance to reach the final eight, and maybe more. Soon thereafter, the Canadian men begin their quest to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, having failed to make the big show since that lone, goalless appearance in 1986.
The playing talent is there, but it's hard not to believe the chaos in the national organizing body will hurt the team's chances.
On his way out the door, Linford painted a picture of a dysfunctional board comprised of provincial association heads, volunteers whose main interest is in participatory, recreational soccer and whose main goal is to protect their own, narrow interests.
A former head of the Ontario Soccer Association himself, Linford arrived with the goal of professionalizing the organization, and especially of jump-starting the national men's program, which is where most Canadians are going to measure success or failure.
But he was shut down when he tried to recruit Rene Simoes
, one of those international coaches-for-hire who might have been just the ticket to get Canada to South Africa in 2010. After the post sat vacant for months, Dale Mitchell
was finally signed, a compromise choice that placated those who thought a Canadian ought to be in charge of Canada's team (though the performance of Mitchell's side in the under-20 tournament didn't exactly help make their case).
Now, we also find out that the man already announced as the CSA's new chief executive officer, Fred Nykamp
, is also being stonewalled by the board. With his contract yet to be approved, chances are he'll never wind up in the post, which you'd have to think sets the stage for some nasty litigation.
A rudderless ship?
More like rudderless, motor-less, sail-less, compass-less ... you get the picture.
And, of course, most of all, hopeless.
If this were hockey, there'd be a royal commission by now. But it's not, never will be, and that's part of what has protected the CSA board in the past.
They exist in their own, little insular world, playing with large amounts of cash, but without any external pressure forcing them to act for the greater good.
Hence, all of those years in the international wilderness.
But the game's recent domestic success, more in spite of the CSA than because of it, may yet be the board's undoing. Had all of this happened two years ago, five years ago, the anger and outrage would have been limited to a cultish group of supporters, excluding those who cared more about what was happening in England or Italy or Portugal than what was happening in Canada.
That's changed now. There are a whole lot more people paying attention. They're not yet worn down by years of broken promises. They don't understand why the sport is in such a mess. They're asking uncomfortable questions.
Mix that unrest with the right, credible, vocal leadership, and watch as a rebellion is born.