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Olympian Charmaine Crooks has slid over into the Canada Soccer president’s seat, replacing Dr. Nick Bontis.
Crooks, 60, who won a silver medal as a member of Canada’s four-by-400 metre relay team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, has been named acting president of the beleaguered organization after Bontis stepped down Monday amid a labour dispute with the women’s national soccer team.
Crooks had been the vice president of Canada Soccer before being promoted to the hot seat. Kelly Brown, who is a member of the Canada soccer board of directors was named acting vice president.
“The job ahead for our organisations, our sport, and for the players who wear our Canadian jersey, is as important to me as any race I’ve competed in,” Crooks said in a statement Wednesday. “I know and understand the calls to get this right, and I am certain that we will be able to deliver real progress for our national teams all the way on down to our grassroots.”
Crooks and Brown have a lot of work ahead to repair the damage done in the past year to the relationship between Canada Soccer and its national teams.
The women’s team went on strike just prior to the SheBelieves Cup in the United States in February, over an equity dispute with the association. The players were forced back onto the field through the threat of litigation and participated in the three-game, four team tournament under protest.
Canada lost two of its three games at the event as the stress of the situation seem to catch up to the team in a 3-0 loss to Japan in the final game of the tournament.
The women’s team is looking for equal pay and treatment afforded to the men’s team in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Canada qualified for a men’s World Cup for the first time since 1986, earning $9-million of prize money for the accomplishment.
Canada were eliminated in the group stage of the tournament, losing to Belgium, Croatia and Morocco in Qatar.
The women’s team won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, adding to the two bronze medals earned at the previous two games in Brazil and London, respectively. They are preparing to play in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer.
Heading into the SheBelieves Cup in February, a labour dispute broke out between members of the women’s national team and Canada Soccer over budget cuts to the program, which saw a reduction of staff members and kept the team from having a home game prior to the World Cup tournament.
The dispute garnered international attention with women’s national teams from around the world backing the Canadian team.
The situation painted Canada Soccer in a bad light and put pressure on the organization to make a change in leadership.
Bontis and general secretary Earl Cochrane dealt with a similar dispute with the national men’s team this past summer. Bontis resigned after both teams and the heads of the provincial soccer associations called for his removal.
Crooks and Brown will now be charged with trying to improve the reputation of the organization and guide the women’s national team through the World Cup, where Canada is considered a contender to win the event.
Canada is in a group with Nigeria, the Republic of Ireland and co-host Australia at the World Cup. They have one exhibition game scheduled in France before the start of the tournament in July.
“I want to thank the members of the board for their support,” Crooks said. “And I am fully committed to listening, learning and building relationships and trust across the entire soccer ecosystem in Canada.”
Since retiring from athletics, Crooks has served on numerous sports administrations. She was elected to the International Olympic Committee athletes commission in 1996 and was a full voting member of the IOC from 2000-2004.
Crooks has served as head of delegations for the women’s national team and is currently organizing committee for FIFA competitions. The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be held in the United States, Mexico and Canada, with Vancouver and Toronto as two of the host cities.
A lawyer and entrepreneur, Brown has been on the Canada Soccer board of directors since 2020.
“To be able to represent our country, our national programs, and our entire membership at this level, and at this time, is an absolute privilege,” Brown said in a statement. “I care deeply about growing our sport in Canada and helping our athletes reach their fullest potential, on and off the pitch. We have substantial and meaningful work ahead of us, and the decisions made in the coming months, will chart our path for the future.”
Crooks and Brown are two of six females on Canada Soccer’s board of directors. It also includes Charisse Bacchus, Stephanie J Geosits, Dr. Karen MacNeil and Brittany Timko Baxter.
“On behalf of our entire Canada Soccer staff and family, I want to congratulate Charmaine and Kelly on their new roles and responsibilities,” Cochrane said in a statement. “I look forward to being a partner to them both, and the rest of the board, as we continue pushing our organisations and our programs forward.”
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest