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HomeSportsSoccerCanada Soccer's Jason deVos is hoping he can make things right within...

Canada Soccer’s Jason deVos is hoping he can make things right within troubled organization

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This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Jason deVos, the newly appointed interim general secretary of Canada Soccer, is hoping to make amends.

It’s not been a great year for the organization that governs the sport in this country, from public feuds with both the men’s and women’s national teams over distribution of prize money and equality of treatment, to a complete upheaval of its leadership, to the federal government imposing conditions on its public funding.

All of this playing out while the men competed in the Men’s World Cup in Qatar late last year, and with the women preparing for their tournament that begins in July in Australia and New Zealand.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Canada Soccer has been largely silent ahead of the Women’s World Cup, with little publicity about the women’s team. In the wake of that, deVos reached out for the opportunity to share his vision of the organization going forward.

It’s not hard to see that coming into this role now would be extremely challenging. DeVos told me that he has met with both the men and women’s teams over the past three weeks and he wants to build “equity and equality in this relationship.”

DeVos has a history as a player with the national program, but he has also been involved as a coach. He was an assistant with the women’s team in 2016 at the Rio Olympics when they won the bronze medal, and had the same role with the men’s team in Qatar. He came into this new role in May. 

I didn’t skirt around the issue that the women’s team has been publicly unhappy with their treatment from Canada Soccer and asked him how he plans to rebuild trust with them. 

“Priority for me is to build back relationships that have maybe been damaged,” he said. 

WATCH | Canada Soccer’s Jason deVos commits to equality:

Canada Soccer committed to equal resources for men’s, women’s teams

Canada Soccer Interim General Secretary Jason deVos discusses the organization’s renewed commitment to providing an equal ‘standard of care’ for men’s and women’s national team programs.

He also noted that the ties that need to be strengthened are not only with the national teams, but with the membership and  professional clubs as well. 

“I think building back trust and relationships and having everyone pull in the same direction is a key area of responsibility for me,” he said.

DeVos emphasized the importance of relationships and that also includes their partnership with the government, including Own The Podium and Sport Canada, as well as other stakeholders. 

He also talked about “a standard of care” for the athletes of both senior national teams, something he can identify with as a former player.

“I have heard [this] from both groups,” he said. “They want the same opportunity, the same standard of care, which is what I call how we support our athletes. How they travel into camp, what the conditions are like when they are in camp, the staff support that is around them, and the same staffing standards apply across both programs.”

It is important to have little discrepancy in what both teams receive. That’s something that Janine Beckie of the women’s team noticed when she was a TV analyst in Qatar and witnessed the resources available to the men’s side and how it was vastly different for her own squad. DeVos said that standardized care should be the same for all players when they represent their country.

In terms of publicity for the women’s squad, Canada Soccer has been working on a set of digital mini-documentaries about the players, with the first episode on Jessie Fleming.

While the final roster will be announced closer to the beginning of the tournament, these teasers will help build that excitement. 

This very public support is essential and I am happy to see these out there. It is important for Canada to hear the voices of the players and know their pride in playing for this country. 

DeVos said removing obstacles is part of the responsibility of a federation for its players. While this may seem fairly basic, it is something that Canada Soccer has failed miserably at in the past. The federation not only became an obstacle for players in being able to perform their best, they became the subject of intense and necessary scrutiny. 

What strikes me about this is the way that communication broke down and simple conversations with players and player reps were not handled well. 

DeVos said he often still feels like a player. He has had that experience and knows a lot of the challenges and experiences that national athletes face. I liken this to how Cindy Parlow Cone, the president of U.S. Soccer Federation, managed to reconcile and reach a collective agreement with the U.S. women’s and men’s teams. 

A man stands on the sidelines of a soccer pitch.
De Vos on the sidelines with Canada’s men’s team during World Cup qualifying in 2021. (Martin Bazyl/Canada Soccer)

She came into the role while there was a pay equity lawsuit against the U.S. federation. Like de Vos, Parlow Cone is a former national player and coach. If deVos can harness that experience, rebuild and unite, it would be a great accomplishment indeed. 

I asked Craig Forrest, the former national goalkeeper turned analyst, what deVos has to do to rebuild trust between the parties. We agreed that this will be no easy task. There is tremendous difficulty involved in bringing everyone together to make everyone happy.

“He wants the best for everyone and that’s a good start,” Forrest said. “If Jason can manage it he’ll deserve a lot of credit.” 

Acknowledging that this seems like a house in need of major repairs, remodeling is an important starting point. And if we’re using construction metaphors, the house needs to be completely gutted.

DeVos believes the foundations and the ties to fans are strong. The rebuilding process will not be easy and will likely take years. But a new framework is the best way to move forward. Tools, planning and vision are essential and we will watch and hope that the process does right by the athletes. 

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