Soccer ace left high and dry
Nov. 1, 2006
Morgan Campbell, Toronto Star.
In Seoul, South Korea, Canada's current soccer sniper Christine Sinclair
is leading the national team to victories in an international tournament.
Outside Chicago, a frustrated Charmaine Hooper
— Canada's most accomplished soccer player — sits at home, with no place on the national team, no government funding and little support from her teammates.
All because, she says, she challenged the demands of a head coach.
Right now, Canada's all-time leader in games played (131) and goals scored (71) fears her stellar 20-year career will only continue through a court order.
"All the other avenues were exhausted," said Hooper, who has hired a lawyer. "We've sunk too many years into this to be just pushed away. If we weren't good enough to make the team and were released, we'd be able to handle it much better, but it doesn't seem like that's the case."
The Canadian Soccer Association says it suspended Hooper and two others for skipping games. The women accuse head coach Even Pellerud
of playing favourites and using money to manipulate players.
Last week the team issued a statement supporting the suspensions of Hooper, Christine Latham
and Sharolta Nonen
"We are extremely happy under the leadership of Even Pellerud," the statement read. "We cannot stress enough that this decision was made as a team and for the betterment of the team."
Hooper and Latham say the mood on the team changed when its headquarters moved from Ottawa to Vancouver.
Latham says Pellerud pressured players to move to Vancouver and join the Whitecaps, a semi-pro team owned by software mogul Greg Kerfoot
Most players agreed to move — the current national team includes 10 Whitecaps. But Hooper, reluctant to uproot her family, resisted. Latham, under contract to a team in Atlanta, hesitated as well.
Kerfoot, who owns the $6.5 million mansion where Pellerud lives, also funded a $20,000 annual stipend to supplement the $1,500 many players receive from the federal government monthly.
Sport Canada makes final decisions about athletes' federal funding, but eligibility for Kerfoot's money was up to Pellerud.
To cash in, players had to be full-time members of the national team. Hooper and Latham say doing that meant following Pellerud to Vancouver.
The CSA maintains moving wasn't a requirement to receive the money. But in a February email, Pellerud outlines the reasons he believes Latham should move, and cites money. First, "The full-time player program is approved by the CSA, which ... gives you the chance to earn 38,000 grand/year — carding included," he wrote. Later in the same message, Pellerud suggests Latham could also lose her federal grant.
"The crucial thing is the fact that you report to me daily — based on the fact that I/CSA are funding your entire existence ... you cannot jeopardize your carding."
Latham says Pellerud's tone shocked and insulted her.
"That message just makes it seem like without (Pellerud) I'd be nothing," she said.
Hooper's conflict intensified in July, before a game against the U.S. She says Pellerud scheduled the match on the same day as the semifinals in the W-League, the semi-pro circuit where most national team members play. Pellerud allowed four members of the Ottawa club to choose the playoffs over the exhibition.
"Your club takes precedence over the national team? That doesn't make sense," said Hooper, whose New Jersey squad played that day. "We're playing against the U.S. We need all the players we can use."
CSA chief operating officer Kevan Pipe*
said coaches can allow players to skip exhibitions for important club games. Dwayne De Rosario missed a recent friendly against Jamaica so he could play with his Major League Soccer club, Pipe said.
But when Hooper and a teammate asked for a release, Pellerud denied them.
"In my 20 years I've never seen anything like this," Hooper said.
Hooper says the CSA promised to find her husband a coaching job in Vancouver. Two weeks after the U.S. game she had boarded a plane to fly west and finalize the deal when the team's manager phoned and told her to stay in Chicago. Days later, the CSA emailed players saying Hooper and Latham had been cut off from Kerfoot's money.
Without the stipend, they decided to skip a pair of August exhibitions against China that led to the CSA suspending them.
Nonen left the team in solidarity with Hooper and Latham.
All three are still in the player pool, but Hooper and Latham's government funding is on hold.
Pellerud won't discuss the situation, but the women might still return to the team. Pipe says the suspensions will last until the end of World Cup qualifying on Nov. 26.
After that, the CSA can consider reinstating them. Earlier this week, CSA president Colin Linford told a Montreal radio station that the CSA has mediated similar disputes before and would consider letting someone else mediate this case.
"If that's the case, that's good and that's what we're hoping for," Hooper said. "It seems like it's more positive."
Kevan Pipe was abruptly fired today (Nov. 2) by the Executive of the CSA. They didn't give a real reason. Does this scandal have anything to do with it?