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No honeymoon period for new Canada Soccer boss

·2-min read

(Reuters) - There will be no honeymoon period for Nick Bontis who steps into the top job at Canada Soccer facing a budget crunch brought on by COVID-19 and a scramble to get the national teams back into action ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and World Cup qualifying.

Bontis, elected Soccer Canada president on Friday, takes over from the outgoing Steven Reed, who had served the remaining three years of Victor Montagliani’s four-year term after the latter became top man at regional governing body CONCACAF.

"The elephant in the room is the recovery from COVID, the lockdown, the pandemic this is critically important," he told reporters during an introductory news conference on Tuesday.

"Pre-COVID the organisation was extremely healthy, soccer across Canada was extremely healthy, then all of a sudden it hit last March and parents aren't registering their kids.

"This is where we get a third, in round numbers, of our revenue. That was a shock to our system.

"We still have scarce resources but our men's and women's national teams are the priority."

The COVID-19 pandemic and not money will be the determining factor when Canada's national teams get back on the field.

The men's team have not played since January when they lost a friendly 1-0 to Iceland but are hopeful of staging a camp in January, which would represent the last opportunity to come together before 2022 Qatar World Cup qualifying begins in March.

Canada, which is set to co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and the United States, has only once before in 1986 qualified for the global soccer showcase and has made securing a spot at the finals in Qatar a priority.

Canada's women's team, bronze medallists at the last two Summer Olympics, are also eager to get in some pre-Games action and will have more opportunities to get on the pitch.

Having last played in March, the women's team will try to hold a training camp in February but there will be two other windows before the start of the Olympics in July.

"As president I want to make sure both our men's and women's teams are playing competitive, meaningful games before actual real competition in terms of the March qualifiers and the Olympic Games," said Bontis. "The proviso is our health authorities must sign off on this plan."

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ken Ferris)