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"Private funding should help bridge gap"


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Good on ya, Kerfoot.


Women's soccer gets a big assist: Private funding should help bridge gap between Canada and elite nations

Gary Kingston

Vancouver Sun

1308 words

17 June 2006

Vancouver Sun




Copyright © 2006 Vancouver Sun

The Canadian women's soccer team was on the way back to its hotel from dinner in Nanaimo this week when the vans were instructed to stop for an ice cream break.

It seems hard-driving head coach Even Pellerud, who is grinding his players through a week-long training camp, recognized they needed a Dairy Queen treat.

Pellerud isn't the team's biggest Sugar Daddy, however. That honour goes to Vancouver Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot.

Earlier this spring, the soccer-loving, but publicity-shy, millionaire businessman committed nearly $1 million over the next two-plus years to supplement the players' carded-athlete funding. It will essentially allow them to become full-time soccer players.

That's something Pellerud, a stickler for the kind of detail that can only come with practice, desperately wanted in the leadup to the 2007 World Cup -- the Canadians head to CONCACAF qualifying in November -- and the 2008 Olympics.

"This is a significant change of direction for us," said Pellerud. "It means the players will be able to commit much more time to soccer. It was very demanding and challenging for me to create the program big enough to compete with the bigger nations. We did that in 2003 [when Canada finished a surprising fourth in the World Cup] and we think we have the potential to do it again, but only on the condition we spend the time together.

"The mentality is changing, the attitude is changing to the better. They will get fitter, be better soccer players and be able to accelerate the development we have seen over the last two years."

Kerfoot's largesse will basically amount to $20,000 Cdn a year per player. It's a nice top-up to the $18,000 a year the players earn in carded-athlete funding, though the total is still far less than the $70,000 US most American players will get each year under a contract negotiated earlier this year with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Still, it is enough to allow the Canadian women not to have to find part-time jobs to meet mortgage and car payments -- and more importantly, it will allow them to spend more time together in residency.

"You try to find the time to run a camp here or there or work with clubs, but it's just so hard to hold down a real job . . . when you're expected to come in and be in residency when we're preparing for qualification and World Cup," says defender Randee Hermus, 26, who worked part-time in the past as a server at a restaurant.

"There's nobody that's going to hire you. When I came back [from a brief stint with a pro team in Norway in 2003], I wanted to get my serving job back, but they said 'You can't have it, you're never here.'

"What Greg Kerfoot has done helps out a great deal and we're extremely fortunate that he's willing and able."

Striker Christine Sinclair, who finished up her standout college career at the University of Portland in the spring, said that without the salary put up by Kerfoot, she likely would have had to return to Portland to pick up some clinic and coaching work once the Whitecaps women's W-League season is finished in early August.

"There's no way a person can live off the carding money," she said. "People need to make money somehow."

Sinclair would also like to see the Canadian Soccer Association -- whose financial contribution to the women's team goes primarily to setting up international friendlies, travel, accommodation and training camp expenses -- step up with more money directly for the players.

"Before Greg came in, we were pretty much playing for nothing. You can't expect to get the results that the coaching staff wants, that we want, that the CSA wants, without having funding to have the players around each other at camps and practices."

The Canadian women, many of whom play their club soccer with the Whitecaps, had little time together prior to qualifying for the 2004 Olympics and didn't make it to Athens after being upset by Mexico.

"What we've seen so much in the past when you compare us to powers like the U.S. and Germany, who do have residency camps, is that they do play so well together," said Hermus. "They know each other, they have the cohesiveness of a club team. That's what we need, to be able to practice year-round together, so you know how somebody plays personality-wise and player-wise.

"That was the biggest thing with the Olympic qualifier. We didn't have the team cohesiveness and individuals started trying to do it for themselves."

Kerfoot -- who can't pay his Whitecap players, in order for the few who also play NCAA soccer to retain their college eligibility -- won't discuss his funding of the national team players -- or any other issue, for that matter.

But Whitecaps GM Bob Lenarduzzi said his boss's contribution to the national team arose out of a discussion with Pellerud about what the coach needed to best prepare the players to medal at the '07 World Cup and the '08 Olympics. He's also committed to growing the game in Canada.

"It's a tremendous contribution," said CSA boss Kevan Pipe. "What Greg has done has allowed our players to focus exclusively on their soccer careers, to really commit themselves to the goals at hand."

Pipe was also quick to say that Kerfoot's money won't mean the CSA, which has yet to start detailed negotiations with players about payment for the upcoming qualifying, will try to cut its salary commitment.

"We don't see Greg as replacing those funds," he said. "We know we're going to have a contract with the players."

Prior to the last World Cup qualifying period, there was some acrimonious negotiations between the CSA and the players before an agreement was reached that resulted in the players each receiving about $10,000.

"Yeah, but for five months work," groused Sinclair. "It's a battle."

Kerfoot's individual largesse is not unique in Canadian sports. Last fall, Dan O'Neill, an ex-president and chief operating officer at Canadian brewing giant Molson and longtime supporter of women's hockey, made a private $500,000 donation to the women's program. Each player named to an Olympic or world championship team will receive $5,000 a year over the next five years.

"We started something I really believe in and . . . it would be the wrong time to walk away," O'Neill said at the time. "The team needs the money, they need the funding to live on and I've been in a personal situation that I can do that.

"The greatest thing would be if it ever started the ball rolling and other people got on board and supported other teams or other sports, especially as we head to the 2010 Olympics."

Kerfoot answered the call.

Pipe is hoping others will follow.

"We need more private sector involvement in the game in Canada and, by extrapolation, all sport. We can't expect government to pay all the bills.

"People like Kerfoot, who love the game, deserve all the credit . . . but it's also important that we create an environment that gives investors a business reason to invest in soccer in this country."


Colour Photo: Charles Krupa, Associated Press Files / Christine Sinclair says that without additional funding, she would have had to return to Portland, Ore., in late summer.

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