August 25, 2003--CPSL--interview with Omur Sezerman of Ottawa Wizards from It' Called Futbol
The Omur Sezerman Interview Aug 25, 2003 Author: Soccer Online - It's Called Futbol Soccer Online spoke to Sezerman late last week to get his side of the Open Canada Cup conflict. Soccer Online: When did you find out that your team had been removed from the Open Canada Cup? Omur Sezerman: The league sent an email to our GM, Mike Ozses earlier in the week, asking whether we were going to attend the Cup in London, but Mike wasn't in the office. We had to respond before the deadline (Thursday at 3:30 p.m.), but they didn't bother to copy me on that. They used to send me a copy of everything, but not any more, I guess. When Mike asked them why they didn't send it to Omur, they said that wasn't their job. This shows how low these guys can get. I got a call from the Ottawa Citizen, and the reporter asked me if I had seen (the CPSL press release). I said, "What?" He said, "You're out of the Cup." The CPSL is shooting itself in the foot. They have no right to take our names off of the schedule. We deserve to be there. They have been asking us this question for the last three weeks. I sent them a letter. What kind of a stupid question is that - "Are we going to be there?" We are one of the five teams. Do we object to the format? Yes, of course I do object, but that doesn't give them a right to take our name off. I told them that if they removed us, then we would sue them for even more money. Soccer Online: Stan Adamson told us that you wanted to host the Open Canada Cup, but you couldn't come to terms with the CPSL over financing and scheduling. In particular, you disagreed with your team having to play the preliminary game and potentially having to play three games in three days. Omur Sezerman: That is partially correct, but first, you should ask Stan whether or not the Open Canada Cup is sanctioned by any soccer association. We have called the CSA, and found that they did not sanction it. We have called the OSA and left numerous messages there, but they haven't replied. We checked the OSA web site to see if the tournament was sanctioned, but we could not find it. The CPSL office assured us that it was. I told them that in order for a tournament to be sanctioned, you have to have the rules and format before the tournament starts. Soccer Online: That wasn't the case? Omur Sezerman: The CPSL did not have the rules, the format or the draw at the beginning of the season. That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was that they did not announce who would host the final round of the Canada Cup competition. In previous years, they announced the hosts before the competition started, so everyone knew what team they were to play as they continued on in the competition…and where the games were to be held. That way, each team knew what they were getting into beforehand. This year they opened it up to amateur teams as well and the winner would get 10,000. So it became a greedy competition. This may explain the shortsighted decision that the league and some of the clubs have made. I guess the money has clouded their judgement. Soccer Online: What was your original complaint? Omur Sezerman: We had been in contact with the league before the season started. We told them we wanted to host the Open Canada Cup. Last year, they awarded the Canada Cup to us, and then they took it away, which we were very angry about. They broke their own rules. I have emails, which I will provide for a judge and for the public, that show that we legitimately were awarded the Canada Cup last year and all the owners missed the deadline on objecting to our bid. It was only after the process was closed that they objected to us hosting. They objected on the grounds that they didn’t have money to travel to Ottawa. Soccer Online: It does cost more to travel to Ottawa especially if the team has to stay overnight. Omur Sezerman: Their response made me very angry because we would have subsidized almost all of their expenses to come to Ottawa. We were covering 800 plus a meal, which would have been 1,200 per team. Most teams would come just for a day trip because if they lost their first game, they wouldn’t stay overnight. Only two teams would stay overnight, and if we went through to the final, only one team would have to stay overnight and have that hotel expense. I asked most of the teams if they would have taken a bus or cars to travel to London, and most of them said they would take a bus. So the difference in expenses of taking a bus to London or to Ottawa is only about two hours if you’re travelling from Toronto. Even if we didn't subsidize them I would have been upset. But we would have subsidized them, and they could have made money coming to Ottawa. The problem for these teams is that they believe that if they come to Ottawa, they have no chance of winning. Last year, they made us travel seven hours to London, which we did. We showed up one hour before the game, beat London City, beat Brampton the next day and then beat Croatia the following day. We made our point. At the same time, I told the league and (CPSL president) Vincent Ursini, "You can't do this to us again. If you do it again, I'm going to come after you." So the warning was already in place last year. They told us not to worry. Just to make sure it didn’t happen, I called the league office some time in May. I spoke to Stan Adamson and Vince Ursini. I told them we were interested in bidding on both the Open Cup and the Playoff Cup. We wanted to get at least one of them, provided that our bid was the best. They told me not to worry and to enter a bid and they would consider it. They said they would decide before the first round. Soccer Online: When next did you hear from the league? Omur Sezerman: After the first round was played, I called them again. I spoke to Stan because I couldn't get a hold of Vince. Stan told me they would decide the Friday after the first round. I called him that Friday to ask what happened. They had delayed the decision again. They delayed the decision for three months. Each time I spoke to them, I reminded them of the problems we had last year. They assured me nothing like that was going to happen again. Just before we played our round in Laval (August 3), they sent us an email explaining the format of the final round of the competition -- not the rules, just the format of the draw. It stated that if we defeated Laval, we would have to play a preliminary game in the final round on Saturday. If we won that game, we would have to play the semifinal on Sunday, and if we won that game, we would play the final on the Monday. I told the league office, "I warned you guys not to do this to us last year. You're putting our team in danger. We've had the death of a player in the Confederation Cup (the late Marc-Vivien Foe, Cameroon international) this summer; you're putting the league and the teams in danger of being sued. The league didn't buy that. Then I asked the league office why the committee picked Ottawa to play the preliminary game. Why didn't they pick another team, like Durham? The office replied that Durham had played one more game than we had in the competition, against an amateur team. But we, on the other hand, had to play against Laval, one of the best teams in the CPSL. I was told that the draw for the tournament was final and that I should do what I had to do. I said I was going to sue. So basically that's what has happened. Soccer Online: According to Stan Adamson, the Wizards were given the opportunity to host the Open Canada Cup, but would not agree to the terms? What is your view of this scenario? Omur Sezerman: The CPSL called an emergency board meeting for last Monday. I told the CPSL office that I couldn't make the meeting because of a previous business engagement, but I would be happy to sit in on a teleconference call. The office said it would try to get me on a call at 8:15. When 8:15 came, there was no call. The league members sent me a decision the following day. They said that if Ottawa wants to host the tournament, it has to play three games in three days and it has to play the qualifying match. They missed our point. We did want to bid on hosting the cups, but more importantly we don't want any team, including Ottawa to play a day before the other teams. Firstly, it gives a great advantage to the other teams. Secondly, because of the death of the player at the Confederations Cup -- the physical pressure on the players, especially with the prize money at stake, was greater than in regular games. The other problem we had was with the bidding process. The process was supposed to be closed. We had offered to pay 800 per visiting team and also pay the league money and pay for meals before and after the game. The league asked us to pay more money. I said to them: "Why are you dictating what I have to pay you? The way the bidding process should work is that Ottawa makes an offer, London makes an offer, Durham makes an offer; the league looks at the offers and awards the tournament to the team with the best bid. They should not go back and try to negotiate a deal. I made an offer and it was final. If someone made a better offer, I have no problem walking away. I'll just bid on the Playoff Cup. All I asked is that London City or any other team doesn’t see my offer beforehand. Otherwise, there is a conflict of interest. Make sure the bids are closed. Soccer Online: So it's not so much a problem of not being awarded the hosting of the Cup as it is a disagreement over the qualifying game and the scheduling. Omur Sezerman: As far as the qualifying games go, no defending champion should have to play qualifying games for a tournament, It isn't done anywhere else in the world. Also, the cup is being played a month earlier this year. It will be 10 degrees hotter on average playing at the end of August. You're asking a team to play three games in less than 48 hours. Soccer Online: The schedule currently has the preliminary game being played on a Friday, the semifinal on Sunday and the final on Monday. Omur Sezerman: They only changed that after they kicked us out. The original schedule had Durham playing London City on Friday. The winner played (Ottawa) on Saturday; the winner of that played Kanata on Sunday and the winner of that was to play the winner of the other semifinal on Monday. After they kicked us out, they were able to skip the Saturday game. They kept changing the rules. The CPSL is run by liars. You can put that on the record. Soccer Online: Ok, What was the CPSL's schedule if the Wizard's were hosting? Omur Sezerman: For us, it would have been three games in three days. Four games in four days for London City or Durham, if one of them made it to the finals. Another point of disagreement was that, for two years in a row, London would enter the Cup through the back door after being eliminated. London wants to try and get the money behind closed doors because it can't do it on the field. You have owners who are shortsighted, greedy and who only thinking about making decisions that are good for them and possibly their city. But what they are doing is making bad decisions for soccer and the CPSL. This situation could be the end of the CPSL because we are going to go all the way. I have had enough of this nonsense. Soccer Online: So, if the bidding process had been run properly, you would not have had a problem with it being placed elsewhere? Omur Sezerman: Of course. I put that in my email to Stan Adamson. He has it on the record. The whole board has it. I questioned the draw. Who made the decision to pick the teams? Who picked which team would play four games and which team would play three. How can Kanata, who is our farm team, be ranked ahead of us? They're an amateur team and they are not in the CPSL. I haven't received an answer to these questions. The bottom line is they want to handicap us. That's the only way they think they can win. I even said that we would play the same number of games as the other teams - we will do it, but not the day before the semifinals. And don't tell me that we have to play those preliminary games with only two weeks notice. Why not tell me at the beginning of the season? Why would they do this to the Wizards two years in a row? We kicked their butt last year on the soccer field. This year we're going to kick their butt on the legal field. Soccer Online: How does this bode for soccer in general? Omur Sezerman: What I'm doing is bad for soccer in the short term…and possibly bad for the Ottawa Wizards, but I was forced to make this decision so I could clean up soccer. I'm going to show all the dirty laundry that the CPSL has. There are lots of disillusioned owners because soccer is run by bureaucrats who backstab and say one thing to your face and then something else when they don't you're not around. They blacklist you, badmouth you and they have illegal constitutions. That's the reason why we sued the OSA, CSA and EODSA. They were illegally penalizing teams when they shouldn't have been. There are lots of things wrong with soccer. Nobody has had the guts to challenge these bureaucrats. I'm not a bully. I'm the guy who is standing up to the bullies and telling them, get out of the business unless you're going to do something good for soccer in Canada. We are the seventh or eighth richest nation in the world, but we are behind Third World nations in soccer. There are a lot of things wrong with soccer in Canada and it starts with the people who are in the decision-making process bullying people that they don't want involved in soccer. Most people just give up. They say, "I don't need this." This time they picked the wrong owner to go against, because this owner is going to fight back until he wins. Soccer Online: You say the Open Canada Cup may not be a sanctioned tournament. Omur Sezerman: The league never presented the rules to any of the participating teams. I know that. They never indicated what would happen if certain teams won or lost. They never presented the draws. When they made the draw, they said we picked Laval. What are the odds of us picking Laval two years in a row? Even if it was a random draw, what is the probability of that happening two years in a row -- being drawn to play Laval and then drawn to play a preliminary qualifying game before the semifinals? The odds are about 40,000 to 1. I'm a bit of a mathematician. Something fishy is going on here and we do have some written evidence that will come out in court. Soccer Online: So where do you go from here? Omur Sezerman: We're going to be seeking an injunction because they illegally removed us from a tournament that we had qualified for. They also illegally awarded the tournament to London. Not only that, they illegally tried to force us to play three games. We're also going to lose the chance to defend our Canada Cup title and the opportunity to win all three titles again. We're going to sue for damages that will reach into hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions of dollars. We're not only going to sue the league, but the individual owners and individual league officials and the teams. If they think that I am joking, they won't know what hit them. Soccer Online: What about the CPSL's Competitions Committee? Omur Sezerman: The Competitions Committee is run by one person, as far as I'm concerned, and that person is Harry Gauss (London City’s owner). The other three people are salaried employees, including Vince Ursini. They are afraid because if they go against Harry Gauss they could be let go. Maybe that explains some of their blind loyalty to the decision-making that has taken place. But I love the city of London. I was going to obtain my Ph.D., at one point, at the University of Western. Soccer Online: You might consider that Harry Gauss is just looking after the interests of his club and that it is up to the league to make sure that things are done equitably. Omur Sezerman: You could say that, but I think there are two people who are calling the shots with the CPSL. That is what I hear from a couple other owners. Soccer Online: Are you going to have time to file your injunction to stop the Open Canada Cup in time? It begins next Friday. Omur Sezerman: I've talked to my lawyer. He'll have the papers together on Monday or Tuesday, and hopefully we will find a judge by then. The judge should hear the case on Wednesday or Thursday. Soccer Online: If the league has a change of heart, is your team prepared to play in the tournament next weekend? Omur Sezerman: That depends upon what the lawyer and judge recommend. Our position has always been that the Ottawa Wizards rightfully qualified to play, and the CPSL has no right to remove our name from the tournament. We will see what will happen after the judge hears the case. We are confident that we are going to win. We will also file a lawsuit against the league, where we will claim damages for loss of revenue. The league did something else that was unfair. It awarded the Playoff Cup to London without seeing the other teams' bids. We were interested in bidding on it. Soccer Online: How have you taken the personal attacks against you? Omur Sezerman: They call me a bully because I fight back. I'm not here to destroy the CPSL. If the CPSL realizes the mistakes they made, I have no problem coming to an agreement with them…if they begin to serve the interests of soccer. I have no problem in doing that. But it won't be with the people who are making the decisions right now. There has to be some changes in the decision-making process of the CPSL. Soccer Online: Will your club continue playing in the league this season? Omur Sezerman: Of course. But we just received a letter that said the CPSL is thinking of suspending us from the league as well. It's intimidation tactics. It makes me angrier. I wasn't going to speak with you actually, but this (letter) has made me more upset. The league is going to suffer a huge financial burden. We're going after everyone because we don't think the league will have enough assets to cover our damages. Any money we win from the league we will reinvest in soccer. Soccer Online: How would you change the CPSL? Omur Sezerman: Look at the most successful clubs in the CPSL. It's the new teams, the expansion teams. But none of the expansion teams are involved in the decision-making process. Any soccer decisions should be made by all of the teams, not just a few owners. Most owners don't have any interest in the decision-making. I would like the government of Canada to sponsor a conference on what is wrong with soccer in Canada. I would gladly offer our sports complex as a place to host such a meeting, where people could talk about what needs to be done to improve soccer in the short term, medium term and long term. We could also discuss the media as well. I'm a little bit disappointed that I'm getting all these calls from the media just because of the controversy rather than for the good things that are happening with soccer. I am not trying to hurt soccer. I only went after the OSA, CSA and EODSA last year because they tried to throw us out of the league. I had to defend my team. In fact the reason I didn't go after damages against those organizations was because they promised to leave us alone. If they hadn't, I would have gone after them for damages. Soccer Online: How would you have scheduled the Open Canada Cup? Omur Sezerman: In the past, they have had a final round of four. This year, it was to be five teams. By awarding it to London, it became a final six. My counteroffer to the league was that any team that had to play the extra game should play three or seven or fourteen days before. The winner of that match would become the fourth team in the final round. I also said, reluctantly, if the league brings in a team that that has already been eliminated, then the best three remaining teams should qualify for the semifinals, and the other three teams should play a round-robin the week before to qualify for the fourth spot in the semifinal round. The league said no to that. Every time they came back to us, they said that we had to play three games in three days or, as host, four games in four days. I said that was unacceptable. I don't mind playing an extra game as long as it is well prior to the tournament. Soccer Online: Is there any common ground? What if you were given the same opportunity as London City currently has, that is playing three games over four days? Omur Sezerman: Someone asked me that question earlier. As long as they draw the teams from a hat to play the extra game rather than just picking Ottawa, I have no problem with that because it would be the luck of the draw. Soccer Online: Would you say you're litigious? Omur Sezerman: I am in self-defence. I also do it to show these people that they don't have the power that they think they do. After I defeat them, if they behave in an admirable way, I won't go after them. I've made a lot of mistakes in the past. The reason I have been perceived the way I am is because nobody has attempted to sue the organizations that I have sued and won. Anytime you are the first to do something, you will have some people respecting you for that accomplishment and you will have some people calling you a troublemaker. That's the risk you take. Most people don't want to be known as a troublemaker. That doesn't bother me. As long as I create a path for other owners to come in and take soccer where it belongs, then it's fine. Hey, I'm the kind of guy who puts his picture on soccer stress balls, so my employees can take their frustrations out on it. My parking space has a sign that says "SOB Parking Only." I can take an insult. The bottom line is that I want to be respected for making tough decisions, knowing I may be seen as the bad boy. If people look at the facts, I think I will be seen as a maverick owner taking on an institution that is run very badly and taking soccer down with it. Soccer Online: So where do things stand with the injunction to stop the tournament? Omur Sezerman: I'm confident that we can get an injunction. It's just a matter of finding a judge to make a ruling in time. As far as the lawsuit goes, we are suing the league for fraud, misrepresentation, loss of revenue for rightfully awarded cup games to Ottawa and reversing that decision, and loss of revenue for misrepresentation. We invested heavily in the league. We gave them our franchise fee and money to host tournaments. We're going to seek our money back plus damages. We entered the CPSL because we thought we were entering a league that would run across the country and that was professional. We thought the other teams would have money. Then we get emails that teams don't want to come to play in Ottawa because they can't afford it. Ottawa and Montreal travel five times a season to play overnight away games. The other teams only travel once a year. So we have to spend more on travel and hotels. If neither of the cup tournaments are in Ottawa or Montreal, it means we have to travel two additional times. Yet still, the teams say that they haven't budgeted to travel to Ottawa. I don't think the teams know how much we would subsidize them for travelling to Ottawa for the Cups. These teams can't pay 1,000 to come to Ottawa, whereas Ottawa and Montreal pay thousands of dollars to come to Toronto. I think the CPSL wanted to teach me a lesson…but they are messing with the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. I challenge anyone to come on the radio to debate me in this matter. Remember that they were the ones who personally attacked me. In my press releases, I never called them names. I just said that the Ottawa Wizards would protect themselves. Then I see the London Free Press article where they attacked me. Soccer Online: Any final thoughts? Omur Sezerman: There will be more fireworks. I think it's very bad for soccer that this has turned into a legal battle. We fought our battles on the soccer field last year...and this year. We have shown that we are the class of the league. We should be treated with respect. But the league doesn't want to treat us with respect. Instead of trying to showcase us, they're trying to punish us. That will be the downfall of the league - the way they treated us. Soccer Online: One last question: There is a game on September 14th- Omur Sezerman: London City? We will be very hospitable to London City. I have a special present for them. I hope Harry Gauss is man enough to show up. Futnotes: Watch for a CBC Newsworld documentary special about the Ottawa Wizards Soccer Club in October.
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