Tomasz Radzinski, walks off the grass in Edmonton wearing a "Sack the CSA" shirt following a World Cup qualifier against Mexico on Oct. 16, 2008. (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)

Canadian Soccer Association Reform Was Years In The Making

Benjamin Massey, of SB Nation's Vancouver Whitecaps blog 86 Forever, shares his thoughts on the CSA's decision to implement significant changes in the way its leadership is selected.

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Canadian Soccer Association Reform Was Years In The Making

By Benjamin Massey - 86 Forever

Ask most die-hard soccer fans around the country and they'll say reform of the Canadian Soccer Association has been decades in coming. But for most of the country, it all started one Wednesday in Toronto.

To Canadian soccer supporters, Sept. 12, 2007 will live on as "Black Wednesday". The Voyageurs, Canada's national soccer supporters group, along with like-minded Canada fans donned black shirts carrying the simple message "Sack the CSA". Canada had grown tired of the Canadian Soccer Association's constantly nickel-and-diming both the international teams and the development of the game while flying to whichever far-flung corner of the globe had some sort of tangential soccer connection with tickets paid for using youth soccer registration dollars. A passionate Canadian soccer fan named Dino Rossi (now president of the Canadian Soccer League's Milltown FC) sold T-shirts which later appeared on Canadian national star Tomasz Radzinski and spearheaded a protest that was major news in the National Post, the CBC, and anywhere Canadian soccer was covered. Not only were Canadian fans discontented, but the world now knew about it.

It wasn't a straight line from that moment to the CSA's general meeting on Saturday, two and a half years later, when after a lifetime of debate and dissension the CSA finally agreed on much-needed reform. But it was a major milestone on a road walked by countless Canadian soccer fans, coaches, and players as the CSA finally proved that it could put soccer first after all.

Even at the last minute, the reforms were contentious, if only among the career bureaucrats who stock the CSA board. The most ambitious reform package, calling for an immediate revamp of the CSA's board of directors, had the support of the country's largest provincial soccer association in Ontario and its third-largest in British Columbia. Player representatives Jason de Vos and Kara Lang, boasting 138 international caps between them, were in favour. The fans were in favour, not that they get a vote. Most of the country stood behind the reforms, but in the end the most audacious plan was scuttled by resistance from Quebec and particularly Alberta, whose own board had recently been embroiled in scandal and litigation which resulted in the Albertan representative voting against, despite unanimous support for reform from his own organization. Alberta's soccer community is in a state of borderline revolution at this usurpation of their rights and the controversy seems unlikely to end. Even when reform comes to Canadian soccer, there's always more clean-up to be done.

Agreement finally came late in the day on a compromise proposal that would delay full implementation of the plan until 2015. Canadian soccer fans had been on tenterhooks, sustained by Twitter updates from Lang and de Vos despite a CSA flunky telling them to stop tweeting mid-meeting (and being ignored, as anybody who knew either ex-player could say they would be). "CSA" and, briefly, the hashtag "#CSAreform" were actually trending on Twitter in Canada, a heck of a development given Canada's usual soccer apathy.

The result of this struggle is nothing less than complete revamp of the Canadian Soccer Association's board of directors. At present, provincial association presidents dominate the board, meaning that the body is often caught up in inter-regional bickering and has often preferred politics to improving the growth of the game in Canada. The new structure, effective starting in 2012, reduces the number of directors and changes geographic representation from "one province, one director" to one director appointed from each of several regions in the country. Perhaps more importantly, it also bars provincial presidents from sitting on the board by 2015, putting an end to the days of one board member serving two masters.

This is as much a symbolic victory as a concrete accomplishment. Winds of reform have been sweeping through the CSA for several years now. After the departure of Kevan Pipe from the CSA, the organization struggled to find a replacement and endured the embarrassment of new president Colin Linford quitting in a huff after the board vetoed both his attempts at rebuilding the organization and his choice of Renê Simões as men's head coach. Since that international humiliation and appointment of Peter Montopoli as CSA General Secretary in 2008, the men's and women's national programs have both played an increasing number of high-profile friendlies and have had more chances to improve their standard of play. Meanwhile, the professional and amateur game in Canada has grown by leaps and bounds. The 2010 general meeting really got the reform process started, with the provincial board members beginning to essentially vote themselves out of existence. But the highest levels of the sport were still mired in the same divisive muck they had always been, with some officials more interested in free junkets to FIFA events than in actually helping Canadian soccer.

The new board will give a larger voice than ever to professionals who can help the game grow and help wean the CSA off its increasingly unsustainable dependence on player registration fees as its primary source of income. It still places a heavy reliance on regional representation, but not nearly as heavy as before and, with multiple provinces in each region, the ability of a single provincial association to hold the CSA to ransom will be greatly reduced.

Of course, this is far from the end of the road for CSA reformers. New board members who combine the required professionalism and impartiality must still be found. Pressure must be kept up to ensure that reforms aren't rolled back and new reforms keep coming: 2015 is a long way away, after all. The impending departure of celebrated women's head coach Carolina Morace due to disagreements with the CSA prove the fight isn't over yet. But on Saturday the CSA demonstrated the ability and the will to clean up its own act. It was a momentous occasion, and who can blame Canadian fans for celebrating?

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