Canadian Soccer at Crossroads: Men’s and women’s teams unite to demand fair treatment and funding
"We'll not be participating in any Canadian Soccer Association activities until this is resolved"
Neil Davidson – The Canadian Press
The ongoing labour dispute between Canada Soccer and its men’s and women’s teams boiled over Friday with calls for Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge to step in.
“Enough is enough,” women’s captain Christine Sinclair said.
Sinclair said the women, currently in Orlando, Fla., preparing for the SheBelieves Cup, will not train or play.
“As a team, we’ve decided to take job action and from this moment on we’ll not be participating in any Canadian Soccer Association activities until this is resolved,” she told TSN. “Whether that’s training, whether that’s games.”
“Until this is resolved, I can’t represent this federation,” added Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer who has won 319 caps for Canada.
The two teams laid out a list of grievances in separate open letters posted on social media — and reposted by players from both squads. They say both programs are having their budgets cut and that the women are not being treated the same way as the men.
The women’s squad said it is “outraged and deeply concerned with the news of significant cuts” as it prepares for this summer’s World Cup.
“With the biggest tournament in women’s football history less than six months away, our preparation for the World Cup and the future success of the women’s national team’s program are being compromised by Canada Soccer’s continued inability to support its national teams,” the women said.
“Despite our strong track record of success and history-making achievements for more than a decade, we continue to be told there is not enough money to adequately fund our program and our youth teams.”
Both teams have been embroiled in labour talks for months with Canada Soccer. The Canadian men refused to play a planned friendly in Vancouver last summer because of their unhappiness at the state of the negotiations, which included division of prize money from the men’s World Cup in Qatar.
The Olympic champion women take their turn on the world stage this summer at their World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“We are at a pivotal moment in time for soccer in Canada,” said the statement issued by the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association. “This is a once-in-a-generation, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow the sport in Canada, and the current leadership of Canada Soccer is putting that opportunity at risk.”
Added the women: “With the men’s national team’s recent success, soccer in Canada has never been more popular. Canada’s national teams have never been more successful, or attracting more corporate dollars. Yet despite these steps forward, we are still stuck asking the same question … where is the funding?”
The sixth-ranked women say they are being told “to perform at a world-class level without the same level of support that was received by the men’s national team in 2022, and with significant cuts to our program — to simply make do with less.”
“We are tired — tired of constantly having to fight for fair and equal treatment, and for a program that will give us a chance to achieve what we know this team is capable of achieving for Canada,” the women said.
In response, Canada Soccer issued its own statement saying it has “a proven track record of supporting women’s soccer.”
“Pay equity for our women’s national team is at the core of our ongoing player negotiations. Canada Soccer will not agree to any deal without it. That is why, after months of negotiations with our women’s national team players and their legal counsel, Canada Soccer already issued a mutually-agreed to retroactive payment.”
“This is real change in action, but there is more to do,” it added. “To continue that important work, we need to have a collective bargaining agreement in place, to responsibly plan for the future. We presented an equity-based proposal to our national teams and their counsel several months ago, and we are still waiting for a definitive response to the terms of that proposal.”
The women say the number of players and staff coming to camp has been cut, as have training camp days.
“We have been told, quite literally, that Canada Soccer cannot adequately fund the women’s national team, and they have waited to tell us this until now, when we are less than six months from the World Cup.”
Both programs and their associated youth teams have had their budgets “substantially cut,” the 53rd-ranked men said.
Part of the issue is Canada Soccer’s deal with Canada Soccer Business, which represents all corporate partnerships and broadcast rights related to Canada Soccer’s core assets including its national teams.
Under the deal, Canada Soccer Business pays Canada Soccer an agreed-on amount each year. It keeps the rest under an agreement that helps fund the Canadian Premier League.
Canada Soccer saw the deal — announced in March 2018 — as short-term pain for long-term gain. But it soon found its hands tied in terms of reaping the financial awards of the women winning Olympic gold and the men becoming the toast of CONCACAF in returning to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
The prize money from the men’s World Cup — Canada earned US$9 million from the tournament purse plus US$1.5 million to prepare for the soccer showcase — is not part of the Canada Soccer Business deal.
“How Canada Soccer is allocating or using funds is unclear and cloaked in secrecy,” the men’s statement said.
The statement went on to say Canada Soccer has “consistently refused or blatantly ignored our Players Association’s requests for access to its financial records to back up its claims that it does not have the funds to properly operate Canada Soccer or fairly compensate the players.”
“If the current leadership of Canada Soccer is not willing to take immediate action to respond to the players’ demands and concerns, we ask that the Minister of Sport, the Honourable Pascale St-Onge, intervene to remove them, and mandate that new Canada Soccer leadership be named and required to comply with its mandated objectives and all legal requirements, as supported by federal funding,” the men said.
The women’s statement called for “new leadership” if the governing body is “not willing or able” to support the team.
“We are committed to do whatever it takes to create public awareness of this crisis and to force Canada Soccer to start to support the national teams properly.”
The Canadian women are scheduled to open play Feb. 16 at the SheBelieves Cup against the top-ranked U.S. The four-team tournament is part of Canada’s preparation for the World Cup, which kicks off July 20.
Earl Cochrane, Canada Soccer’s general secretary, and legal counsel are scheduled to meet the women Saturday in Orlando in a previously arranged meeting.
“We want to get this resolved, for both of our national teams, and for soccer in Canada,” Canada Soccer said in its statement.
banner image: The Canadian Press