Fans wearing red and white Canada soccer jerseys and carrying flags and banners were left behind at the gates of BC Place in Vancouver on Sunday after a friendly match with Panama was suddenly called off.
“I mean we just got to the World Cup, a match in Vancouver and we finally see some excitement for the beautiful match in our country and that’s what happens?” said Danny Bromley, who was at the downtown circuit with his young son to watch the game.
They drove over an hour from Chilliwack, east of Vancouver, to watch the men’s national team game. It was the first time the team had played in Vancouver since March 2019.
But the men’s soccer team refused to play a World Cup warm-up match due to a contract dispute between the players and the National Sports Authority.
“It’s just not a good look,” Bromley said.
Alex Linning traveled with his father, mother and two brothers to Vancouver from Port Alberni on Vancouver Island – which takes nearly four hours and includes a ferry ride – to watch the Canadian national football team in action.
After learning that the game had been cancelled, the family sat in front of BC Place wearing the soccer jerseys and banners they had brought to cheer on the team.
“Disappointed,” said Linning. “I wish they had canceled sooner.”
Go home disappointed
Keola Werner also came from Vancouver Island to see the team, only to learn that the match was called off two hours before the start of the whistle.
“There are a lot of other people who come from Vancouver Island as well,” he said. “So, I think we should go home disappointed.”
The men’s team has been at an all-time high since it secured a spot in the world’s biggest soccer tournament in March for the first time since 1986. Since then, Canada Soccer has suffered stumbles.
Al-Ittihad had originally booked a friendly match against Iran at PC Place on Sunday, but after criticism and political pressure, it canceled the match and was brought to Panama.
More than 40,000 tickets for the Canadian-Iranian match were sold.
In the lead-up to the Canada-Panama friendly, training sessions were canceled as compensatory talks between the two sides continued.
The players said they wanted more transparency from Football Canada, changes to the organization’s leadership, World Cup compensation including 40 per cent of prize money and a “comprehensive package for friends and family” for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
On Sunday, Football Canada’s president, Nick Pontes, said the players’ proposal is not financially viable.
On BBC Place on Sunday, some fans were more sympathetic than others. VJ Setlur came from Toronto to watch the match. He said he was disappointed with its cancellation, but hoped the two sides could reach an agreement now rather than in November, when the World Cup kicks off.
“It’s unfortunate for the fans but they have to sort this out and whatever has to happen for this to happen is the best course of action,” Setlor said.
Canada, ranked 38th in the world, is scheduled to start the CONCACAF Nations League match against Curaçao No. 79 in Vancouver on June 9, but it is unclear if that match will continue.
Canada is preparing for the World Cup opener on November 23rd against 2nd seed Belgium before facing 16th seed Croatia on November 27th and 24th seed Morocco on December 1st.