Closing a chapter on the CPSL Open Canada Cup
Sep 7, 2003 Author: Soccer Online - It's Called Futbol

“I’ve always said, the CPSL rules are written on an Etcha Sketch board. They write them up and then shake them as soon as they need to change them to suit the people in charge.” – CPSL veteran goalkeeper Dino Perri, April 2003.

“This is how the CPSL is known – no rules; make them up as you go.” – Ottawa Wizards owner Omur Sezerman, August 2003

The CPSL playoff format was all set out from the beginning, but not the Open Canada Cup. The (format) was to be decided upon from time to time, as the season progressed. – CPSL Administrator Stan Adamson, August 2003

Shikka! Shikka! Shikka! Is that the sound of a kid shaking up an Etcha Sketch board…or is the CPSL making some late-season rule changes? Remember Etcha Sketch Boards? The red-framed board…the yellow plastic knobs…draw words and patterns with them…erase by shaking the board and starting again from scratch? No? Ah, well…let’s talk soccer, then…

Now that the brouhaha between the Ottawa Wizards and the Canadian Professional Soccer League has reached a lull, Soccer Online offers our readers another perspective on the dispute. With so much hyperbole and bile spewing forth on the issue, in and out of court, the casual CPSL fan might have difficulty discerning the meat from the garnish. Any way you look at it, the entire episode has been unpalatable.

The key points, as Soccer Online sees it, are as follows:

The Ottawa Wizards did not wish to attend the 2002 Canada Cup in London because in order for them to win the final, the defending champions would have to play three games in less than 48 hours.

Wizards’ owner Omur Sezerman was convinced by league president Vincent Ursini to participate in the tournament. Sezerman agreed only after Ursini made a verbal promise, according to Sezerman, that the league would not put the Wizards in such a situation again.

However, verbal promises mean little or nothing apparently, especially when the competition in question does not have set rules in place from the outset. A competitions committee that concocts rules and awards hosting privileges at its own convenience is begging for trouble. The CPSL clearly left itself wide open to charges that it has conspired against the Wizards. Whether or not the charges are valid is entirely a matter of opinion. Sezerman will have to provide concrete proof in court. He is confident that he will be able to do so.

Before the competition began in the spring, Sezerman contacted the CPSL office to find out the rules of the competition and when the venues were awarded. Had the Wizards owner been informed of the rules of the competition and informed that his squad might have to play three games in less than 48 hours in the final round, he would have had time to file a proper objection, or pull his team out of the competition. Any ensuing fiasco would have taken place in the preseason and not on the eve of the final round of the tournament.

An entirely separate dispute which has been linked to the conflict over scheduling concerns the CPSL decision to place the Open Canada Cup and the playoff tournament final rounds in London for City to host.

Had the hosting privileges been awarded before the season began, London would not have slipped in the back door of the competition, as they did this year after being eliminated in the third round of the Open Cup by the St. Catharines Roma Wolves on August 1st.

As fine an accomplishment as it was for Harry Gauss’s team to win the Open Canada Cup after being resurrected, the victory is tainted. Perhaps an asterisk should be placed beside City’s name when it is engraved on the Cup, acknowledging the fact that they were in fact, ousted from the competition in an earlier round.

A cynic might say that City bought their way back into Cup contention, which is unfortunate considering the grueling schedule its players overcame to take the final prize. That the Wizards were not in the final round to defend their title despite qualifying was a massive disappointment. Soccer purists would prefer to see all matters decided on the pitch, regardless of whether or not the team was justly or unjustly removed from the tournament.

The nature of an open cup competition is supposed to be straightforward. A team wins and it continues in the competition. Lose and you’re history. To allow a team back into a tournament – especially in a competition with a 10,000 CAD purse up for grabs -- makes a mockery of the entire proceeding. One wonders how Lucio Ianeiro and the Roma Wolves must feel today after defeating London City on August 1st, only to see their rivals resurrected, by off-the-field maneuvering, to a place in the final round.

Were all the teams aware of this potential scheduling loophole when they entered the money tournament back in May? That seems unlikely. All but five teams were eliminated before the rules of the tournament were submitted to the Ontario Soccer Association on August 23rd.

In a nutshell, it was the CPSL’s lack of rules that brought about its dispute with the Wizards. For that reason, they should have fallen on their sword when Sezerman cried foul and not asked his squad to play the qualifying game. The Ottawa owner’s frustration is understandable and has only been compounded by other niggling irritants associated with the conflict.

For instance, for two seasons in a row, Ottawa has been presented with a chance to host a Cup competition. Last year it was taken away arbitrarily by the league’s board of directors, and this year, Sezerman refused to host the tournament in Ottawa as it might have forced the Wizards to play three games in under 48 hours.

The CPSL may have thought that Sezerman wasn’t serious when he insisted, after winning the 2002 Canada Cup, that he would not be placed in that situation again. The Wizards owner has been true to his word, however.

It has been suggested that the CPSL wanted to appear as if it was awarding the Open Canada Cup to Ottawa when in actual fact it knew that Sezerman would never agree to its terms. Under this scenario, the CPSL was able to award the Open Canada Cup to its back up host, London.

The league made no secret of the fact that London’s bids for the Open Canada Cup and the playoffs were the best of the bunch. While it was admirable that the competitions committee and the board of governors were ensuring the CPSL’s bottom-line interests were covered, one must question whether they have done justice to the on-field competition itself by awarding London both Cups.

Kudos to Gauss and London City for making the most of the situation. They have wrested control of the CPSL Cup tournaments for 2003 and perhaps beyond, come back from the dead to win their first CPSL title with three gritty performances and the backing of London Tourism and have emerged as the recognized saviors of the Open Canada Cup.

Sezerman, on the other hand, is left with the realization that he no longer has the sympathetic ear of the CPSL board of governors. His frustration will be channeled into a string of lawsuits to be filed against the league and several of its individual members.

The CPSL owners and league officials should be commended for bringing a higher level of soccer to Ontario. By working within relatively modest budgets, several clubs have entrenched themselves as fixtures in their local soccer communities (Hamilton, London, St. Catharines, Vaughan, Ottawa and Brampton come to mind).

That the league continues to slowly flourish and expand in the face of the critics, who predicted its demise several seasons ago, is largely due to the inordinate amount of work done by a small but committed administrative nucleus. What sad irony that it is this same nucleus with which Sezerman is at odds.

What is even more unfortunate is that Sezerman’s underlying complaint – a broken promise – seems entirely justified. If the league intended to give the impression that they no longer wanted the Ottawa Wizards in the league, they have certainly been successful.

Was there a last-minute solution that could have brought the Wizards back into Open Canada Cup and avoided the impending lawsuits? Perhaps Kanata could have been forced to play the qualifying match and the Wizards could have taken its place as an automatic semifinalist.

Yes, that would have been unfair to Kanata, but the CPSL had already set a precedent in the competition of favoring CPSL teams. For example, only CPSL teams were permitted to host the tournament rounds. Witness the fact that AEK London was not brought into the final round of the tournament as a co-host with London.

Heck, AEK could have even taken Ottawa’s place in the final round after the latter was removed! Why not? There were no rules against it. And even if there were – Shikka, Shikka, Shikka – presto, they’ve been changed!

What is good for the Goss should be good for the Gander.

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