March 3rd, 2024

Newly appointed Canada Soccer general secretary steps down, citing personal matter

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on January 22, 2024.

Alyson Walker, shown in a handout file photo, was slated to start Monday (Jan. 22, 2024) as Canada Soccer’s new general secretary. The governing body of Canadian soccer says Walker has informed it she cannot take the job because of an "unforeseen personal matter.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canada Soccer **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Alyson Walker, the newly appointed general secretary of Canada Soccer, is leaving the job before starting due an “unforeseen personal matter.”

Walker, whose appointment was announced Dec. 22, had been slated to start Jan. 22 – becoming the first woman to hold down the top staff position at the governing body of Canadian soccer.

“After careful consideration and conversation with my family, I have decided for personal reasons, to take some time away and will not step into the role of general secretary at Canada Soccer,” Walker said in a Canada Soccer statement. “I wish Canada Soccer the very best and will be cheering on from afar.”

The governing body said Walker informed it Saturday that “she will not be able to fulfil the duties of the general secretary.”

“Our thoughts are with Alyson as she deals with an unforeseen personal matter that sadly precludes her from taking on the role of general secretary,” Canada Soccer president Charmaine Crooks said in an statement. “While we were all looking forward to having her lead Canada Soccer, we fully understand, and deeply respect her request for privacy. We wish her all the very best.”

Korn Ferry, the consulting firm that helped find Walker, has resumed the search for a new candidate.

Canada Soccer says Kelly Brown, a member of the board of directors and chair of the HR committee, will head up a transition leadership team that includes COO Mathieu Chamberland, CFO Sean Heffernanand Paulo Senra, chief communications and content officer.

Walker was chosen after a four-month search conducted by Korn Ferry that saw more than 200 candidates identified, according to Canada Soccer. Her resume includes stints with Bell Media, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Former Canada captain Jason deVos, who previously was Canada Soccer’s director of development, had served as interim general secretary job since Earl Cochrane stepped down last April. DeVos recently left Canada Soccer to join Toronto FC as an assistant coach under John Herdman.

Walker’s exit is the latest setback for Canada Soccer, which has been 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.

The departure may also delay the search for a permanent coach for the men’s national team. Canada Soccer had said that hiring was going to wait until a general secretary was hired.

Mauro Biello has served as interim coach since Herdman resigned in August. Last week Canada Soccer extended Biello’s interim term in charge through Canada’s Copa America qualifying playoff with Trinidad and Tobago in March.

Walker 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 has been a constant at Canada Soccer in recent times.

Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis resigned his elected position last 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.

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 World Cup.

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.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2024

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