By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on December 22, 2023.
Alyson Walker, whose resume includes stints with Bell Media, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, has been named general secretary of Canada Soccer.
Walker, who is set to start Jan. 22, becomes the first woman to hold down the top staff position at the governing body of Canadian soccer.
Canada Soccer says more than 200 candidates were identified throughout the four-month search process conducted by Korn Ferry. Former national team captain Jason deVos, who previously was Canada Soccer’s director of development, has held down the general secretary job on an interim basis since Earl Cochrane stepped down in late April.
Walker takes over an organization that has seen little positive press of late, embroiled in a lengthy labour battle with its players and facing a financial pinch. And with Canada co-hosting the FIFA men’s World Cup in 2026, there are major challenges ahead on and off the field.
But Canada Soccer made good on its pledge to fill the general secretary position by end of year.
“Alyson brings extensive business experience to her new role, and we are confident in her ability to lead us forward,” Canada Soccer president Charmaine Crooks said in a statement Friday. “This important step signals a new direction for our organization as we unite our membership and continue to build toward the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and a home FIFA World Cup in 2026.”
Crooks thanked deVos for filling the gap, saying “we look forward to his ongoing contributions.”
Walker’s hiring now paves the way for Canada Soccer to find a permanent coach for the men’s national team. Mauro Biello has served as interim coach since John Herdman resigned in August to take over Major League Soccer club Toronto FC.
Walker has an extensive marketing background.
She had two stints at Bell Media, including serving as vice-president of brand partnerships and client strategy from 2016 to 2019. Before that she spent 20 months at MLSE as vice-president of content and almost four years as the Canadian Olympic Committee’s executive director of marketing partnerships and licensing.
Most recently she served as chief commercial officer at OverActive Media, a Toronto-based esports organization.
Walker, who played university soccer for the McGill Martlets, is a founding board member with WISE Toronto (Women in Sports and Events), and an adviser/mentor with The Future of Sport Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Change and controversy have been the major constant at Canada Soccer in recent times.
Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis resigned his elected position in late February, acknowledging change was needed to achieve labour peace. Crooks, a former Olympic track star, took over as acting president and was subsequently voted into the job.
Cochrane came and went after taking the general secretary role on a permanent basis in July 2022 following an “extensive global recruitment process” as Canada Soccer stayed in-house to find a successor to general secretary Peter Montopoli.
Cochrane, who had held a variety of roles with the governing body over two stints dating back to 2001, was handed the general secretary position on an interim basis in January 2022 after Montopoli stepped down to become chief operating officer for Canada FIFA World Cup 2026.
Montopoli took over as general secretary in April 2008 after two years as national event director for the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.
Walker still has to conclude the lengthy labour battle that has seen both the men’s and women’s teams resort to job action and the organization come under fire at the House of Common’s Heritage Committee.
The 48th-ranked men boycotted a planned friendly against Panama in June 2022 in Vancouver. And the women’s team briefly downed tools at the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year before being forced back onto the pitch by threats of legal action from Canada Soccer.
The 10th-ranked women, who formed the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association in 2016, have been without a labour deal since the last one expired at the end of 2021. They have struck an agreement in principle with Canada Soccer on compensation for 2022 and an interim deal for 2023 covering the World Cup but are essentially waiting on the men to settle given the two deals are linked via equal pay.
The men, who organized in the summer of 2022 as the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association, are working on their first formal labour agreement.
Canada Soccer has struggled financially of late, tied into a long-term agreement with Canadian Soccer Business which essentially markets its product on the field and off, via broadcast and sponsorship agreements.
Canada Soccer is believed to be receiving $4 million a year currently under the deal as “the beneficiary of a rights fee guarantee.” It is attempting to renegotiate the agreement, which includes an additional $500,000 to be paid out per year ahead of the 2026 FIFA men’s World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting
Canada Soccer cited financial issues as one of the reasons the Canadian men sat out the September international window and played just once in October when they were outclassed 4-1 by Japan in Niigata.
The men collapsed in their CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal against No. 55 Jamaica in November, losing the two-legged series on the away goals rule. That necessitated a March playoff against No. 96 Trinidad and Tobago to qualify for Copa America, seen as a much-needed opportunity to face elite opposition like World Cup champion Argentina next summer.
Canada also disappointed at this year’s Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, failing to get out of the group stage. But the reigning Olympic champions bounced back by beating No. 40 Jamaica in a two-legged qualifier in September to qualify for next summer’s Paris Games.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2023.