Concacaf USL

Ottawa Fury FC Suspend Operations

Club has been in dispute with Concacaf over sanctioning

Not Interested in Canadian Premier League at present time

Ottawa, Ont. (November 9, 2019) —

Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (“OSEG”) announced at a morning press conference on Friday, November 8, 2019 that the Ottawa Fury FC will suspend operations, effective immediately.

Ottawa Fury general manager Julian De Guzman (left) becomes emotional as the team announces they are suspending operations for the 2020 season. Team owners John Pugh (centre) and Mark Goudie (right) blamed politics for the decision. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The Fury are one of three sports teams owned by OSEG, along with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks and the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s. Fury FC began as a North American Soccer League expansion franchise in 2014, then joined the United Soccer League in 2017. The NASL subsequently was denied sanctioning as a second division league by US Soccer and ceased operations.

A statement in English and French by club president John Pugh was released on the club’s website:

In a statement, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) Mark Goudie said he believes the U.S. Soccer Federation and Concacaf intentionally ran them out of time. “I think it’s apparent that soccer’s hierarchy is trying to force Fury FC out of the USL,” the statement said.

As a Canadian club playing in a non-domestic league, they are required to get permission from each of the following governing bodies: The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA), the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), CONCACAF and ultimately FIFA. The Fury obtained the approval in 2014 when they joined the NASL and it rolled over each year. When they joined the USL they had to reapply. This was in accordance with FIFA Statute 73, which offers only limited guidance:

“Associations, leagues or clubs that are affiliated to a member association may only join another member association or take part in competitions on that member association’s territory under exceptional circumstances. In each case, authorisation must be given by both member associations, the respective confederation(s) and by FIFA.”  – FIFA Statute 73

The term ‘exceptional circumstances’ has not been defined, rendering the statute vague and open to interpretation. In the absence of defined terms, one is left with legal arguments as to what are exceptional circumstances. Some example might include: (1) clubs that are in close proximity to another member’s territory and have been long-standing members of the other league, (2) clubs that have moved because of political conflict or wars affecting their homes countries, (3) clubs located in member associations where there isn’t currently a professional league (ex. Monaco, Liechtenstein, Andorra, San Marino, etc.), and (4) clubs in disputed territories. The arrival of the Canadian Premier League (“CanPL”) for the 2019 season changed the landscape and possibly what would be viewed as ‘exceptional circumstances.’

Prior to the 2019 USL season, governing body Concacaf, the governing body of North American and Caribbean soccer, refused to sanction Fury FC, a Canadian team, to play in the US-based USL, instead trying to pressure them into joining the newly launched Canadian Premier League. The team from Canada’s capital filed a petition with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to fight that ruling from Concacaf.

On December 21st, 2018, the Fury announced that Concacaf had reversed its decision and would sanction Ottawa for the USL Championship. Concacaf later confirmed this in a letter critical of the action the Fury had taken.

Thus, Fury FC finally got the sanctioning it sought, but the bad blood with Concacaf lingered.

The USL was very cooperative with the Fury. At the time they joined USL, the possibility of them leaving for the CanPL was considered. USL consenting as part of the franchise agreement with the Fury to let the team leave with no exit fee if they decided joining the CPL would be in their best interests. Initially that agreement required twelve months’ notice, which was later shortened to six months.

OSEG decided not to apply for membership in the CanPL. This decision was likely based upon the uncertain viability of the new league. The club had paid a fee to join USL, after having already paid in the first instance to join the NASL. Reports suggest that the CanPL was at one point willing to waive its expansion fee to entice the Ottawa Fury to join.

Beyond the legal interpretations of FIFA statute 73, there does seem to be politics involved. Concacaf president Victor Montagliani, who is from Canada, was an advocate for the founding of Canada’s new first division. The CanPL viewed Ottawa as a critical market needed for the success of the league (Canada’s fourth largest with a metropolitan population of around 1.3 million) and approached the Fury about joining.

What happens to the franchise going forward is not decided at this point. The club apparently is not interested in joining the CanPL, and it is less than six months until next season begins. One possible scenario is that the club returns in one to two seasons after the CanPL shows some potential. Relocation to the U.S. is certainly an option and would end the need for sanctioning via the above mechanisms. The current ownership however is rooted in Ottawa and may not want to place the club elsewhere in a market they are not familiar with. A sale of the franchise is more likely, and there would likely be a number of cities and owners interested. USL is in a stage of rapid growth and there are at least a dozen or more markets in the U.S. that could obtain franchisees.

In the end, none of this makes much sense, which is a further reason to implicate politics. Ottawa has had a good track record in the USL and plays in a good facility in a sizeable market. It should not matter to Concacaf what league they choose to play in, especially given the fact that there are three very successful Canadian clubs already playing in MLS, and those clubs are not going to leave MLS anytime soon, if ever. Further, it is customary in other North American sports for there to be teams in both countries. While it may have the authority to deny sanctioning, it is a situation where exercising the discretion not to act should have been the order of the day.

Image result for lansdowne park ottawa
The Fury played home games at TD Place stadium at Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park. | Photo: Lansdowne Park

Ottawa finished in eighth place in the USL’s Eastern Conference in 2019 with a 14-10-10 record.

By Ken Russo

While my background is in the legal industry, the skills acquired and fine-tuned in law practice are now applied to focus on the sport of football. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.