If the city seeks out its own pro soccer team for Tim Hortons Field it will do so without the blessing of Canada’s governing soccer body.
Councillors are slated to consider a motion from Coun. Judi Partridge Wednesday to seek expressions of interest for a professional soccer league or team to play out of Hamilton’s $145-million, taxpayer-owned stadium.
The motion comes just a month after Canada Soccer approved the creation of a new professional men’s league — and a founding team owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The city contends an earlier exclusivity agreement with the football club to bring in pro-soccer has expired; the Ticats organization argues its rights remain.
Regardless, Canada Soccer will not sanction a different or additional pro team operating out of Hamilton, said Nick Bontis, a board director with the body also known as the Canadian Soccer Association.
“That will not happen,” he said. “In the eyes of the CSA (the Ticats) have the official team in Hamilton … Another team or league would not be sanctioned.”
There are “unsanctioned” teams operating in Canada, he acknowledged, including those in the self-identified pro Canadian Soccer League.
That league lost its Canada Soccer sanction in 2013 and was later investigated by the RCMP over match fixing allegations.
The city was also approached by an amateur team in 2013, the Toronto Lynx, which proposed turning pro and playing out of Tim Hortons Field in a U.S-based league.
The city turned down that offer at the time and extended the Ticats’ exclusive window to find a pro team.
Bontis said the Canada Soccer board voted unanimously to accept a Ticat-owned Hamilton team, noting the attraction of “serious financial backing” provided by Ticats owner Bob Young and the league’s other founding team owner, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
But Bontis also conceded he “never had an inkling” the city might dispute the team’s right to play out of Tim Hortons Field.
“Until now, I’ve never heard anything from the city to the contrary,” Bontis said, adding he feels the disagreement is the result of “miscommunication.”
Several councillors reached by the Spectator seem poised to vote in support of the motion, however unlikely the prospects to find another realistic soccer partner.
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson said he has “no problem exploring our options,” but also added he doesn’t want to “stand in the way of bringing professional soccer to Hamilton.”
He noted an ongoing multimillion-dollar lawsuit over damages from stadium construction delays is causing “headaches” for both sides.
That lawsuit includes the city, Ticats, stadium builder and Infrastructure Ontario. While at least one negotiated settlement has been pitched, the team, council and other parties have so far not agreed on the terms.
That litigation largely prevents the two sides from working together on new ventures, Ferguson said.
For example, the lawsuit has been cited as a reason to delay a joint city-Ticat bid for the Grey Cup CFL championship game as well as a factor in the city putting off a debate on adding an all-season dome to the stadium playing surface.
“Hopefully everyone comes to their senses and we come to a resolution soon,” Ferguson said.