Talks break down between Canadian Lacrosse Association and national teams

The Canadian Lacrosse Association broke off communication with the National Lacrosse Team Players’ Association on Monday, deepening a standoff that threatens the country’s participation in the upcoming men’s field lacrosse world championship.

Canada’s lacrosse players refuse to play in international tournaments until the CLA gets them better health insurance and takes steps to re-establish its status as a charity with the Canadian Revenue Agency.

CLA executive director Jane Clapham explained in an email to the NLTPA’s lawyer on Monday why they governing body was not negotiating.

“Our short term priority is to ensure we send a team to the World Championships and therefore we will be dealing directly with the athletes interested in attending,” said Clapham. “As for further discussion with the NLTPA, we are happy to further discussions after our short term priorities have been met.

“We will be in touch with you directly when the CLA wishes to continue discussions with the NLTPA.”

The CLA’s decision to not negotiate with the players’ association has frustrated many NLTPA members.

“As a player who has been part of the national program since 2004, it’s very disappointing the way the CLA has acted through this whole negotiation process,” said Dan Dawson, a member of the board of directors of the NLTPA who has played for Canada in several field and box lacrosse world championships. “To put themselves ahead of the game is not the right thing to do.”

The conflict began when the CLA had its charitable status revoked by the Canadian Revenue Agency in 2010 for issuing more than $60.7 million in donation receipts for abusive transactions through tax shelters. Players that compete for Canada pay for many of their own expenses and without the charitable status, the CLA could not issue them tax receipts. The CLA said the revoked charitable status also hurt its ability to fundraise.

In October, Gary Gait, Dave Huntley, Johnny Mouradian and Dean French — directors responsible for Canada’s five national teams that report to the CLA — penned a letter to the CLA asking that steps be taken to restore the organization’s charitable status and that improved health insurance be offered to players. The directors said they would resign their posts if their conditions were not met by March.

The CLA accepted their resignations almost immediately, save for Gait. The lacrosse superstar was told that he was welcome to stay on, but he declined.

“That’s why it’s come to a head,” said Dawson. ”Once the directors had been fired from their position, no one could hold the CLA accountable for their actions.”

Without the four directors serving as their advocates, Canada’s top lacrosse players of both genders organized into the NLTPA. The players’ association includes athletes from the men’s and women’s field teams and the men’s box team. Because many of the under-19 players are legally minors, they were not asked to join.

The NLTPA also informed the CLA that until their conditions were met, they would not play for Canada in any tournament. The men’s field world championships is the first tournament on the calendar since the strike began.

Although the CLA has made an offer to the NLTPA, it is only for the 34 players in the top tier of the senior men’s field team pool. Those players want the offer extended to the women’s field team, the under-19 boys and girls teams, as well as the men’s box team.

“The fact that they’re willing to put their experience to compete on the world stage in jeopardy in order to insure that there’s equality among all the programs is really special and inspiring,” said Tory Merrill, a member of Canada’s team that won silver at the 2017 women’s field lacrosse World Cup in Guildford, England. “I know members of the women’s team appreciate and we also feel it’s so important, as well.”

Canada has participated in every men’s field world championship since the event’s inception in 1967 and is the defending champion from the 2014 tournament in Denver.

A spokesperson from the CLA was not available to speak with The Canadian Press.

“There are several risks that could negatively impact the future of lacrosse in Canada should we fail to send a team to the 2018 Worlds Championships,” said a statement from CLA president Joey Harris released on Thursday. “We are working very hard to mitigate these risks for the short and longer term viability of the organization.

“We remain committed to fielding a team that will safeguard the future of the national team program, and continue to serve our 60,000 athletes, coaches and officials across the country.”

In Monday’s email to the NLTPA’s lawyer, the CLA said it would not continue negotiations until it had found replacement players for the men’s field world championship and that talks could resume after the tournament. Players and coaches from the Canadian University Field Lacrosse Association have been contacted by the CLA, as have other professional players.

“I was asked by the CLA to go to Israel and play in place of those guys who have taken a principled stand,” said Kyle Rubisch, a forward with the NLL’s Saskatchewan Rush in a statement put out through the NLTPA. “The CLA cannot expect me or other players to overthrow what these players have been working toward.”

Canadian athletes may still represent other countries at the international event. The Iroquois Nationals are made up of First Nations players from Canada and the United States, while in previous tournaments teams from England, Scotland, China and other nations have fielded athletes from Canada that qualify based on ancestry.

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