Another Step Backward: Canadian Women’s National Team Continues to Fight Inequities

There is not a story in the world of soccer today that is much larger than what is happening with Canadian soccer, specifically the women’s national team. Before the defending gold medalist came up short against the United States in the Sunshine State in the SheBelieves Cup opener, captain Christine Sinclair and the rest of the players had been forced to fight for their own equity. 

In 2023, this shouldn’t still be a conversation. News of the USWNT’s successful fight for equal pay, and an eventful European Championship this past summer, gave women’s soccer plenty of momentum. But for Canada, the mood around women’s soccer has taken a massive hit. 

On February 10, the Canadian Soccer Federation released a statement saying, “we are no longer able to adequately fund the Women’s National team.” Yes, this is the same team that features stars like the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer Sinclair, goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, and midfielder Jessie Fleming. The support from the federation poured in for the men’s team as they headed to Qatar in November. Why should it be any different for a team that actually has a legitimate shot at winning the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand during the summer? At this point in time, Canada is ranked at the No. 6 spot in the FIFA Women’s Soccer rankings, just ahead of Spain, and the Netherlands. 

Two goals by Fleming in the semifinals and the gold medal match propelled Canada to the pinnacle in the Tokyo Olympic games in the summer of 2021. How can a federation decrease the funding of a program that has been one of the most successful in the world? Beverly Priestman’s side is not one sitting in the depths of the women’s soccer rankings like Belize or Honduras. 

If anything, the funds should increase, but for some reason, the soccer players in Canada are going through an unnecessary fight for what is right. In 2020, during the SheBelieves Cup, the USWNT fought for equal pay. Three years later, the neighbors to the north are battling against significant cuts to their sport just months out from the most prestigious soccer tournament in the world. 

Facing the threat of the federation taking legal action against them, the players were forced to resume play in the United States during this month’s international window. That still did not prevent the entire team from protesting for what they believed in. 

Before the competition kicked off on Feb. 16, the players showed up with unbranded gear, without the Canadian logo. Every team in the tournament supported Canadians, taking a stand against the cuts to their sport — each one of the players seeks lasting change in the way Canada runs its national teams. 

There have been reports about the Canadian Soccer Federation according to the men’s side. In a statement released by the men’s team, the group stated, “How Canada is allocating or using funds is unclear and cloaked in secrecy.” Despite the fact that the country is best known for its contributions to the sport of hockey, soccer is beginning to demand respect. The federation fails to recognize that. 

By no means is the act of these players participating in this tournament voluntary. “To be clear. We are being forced back to work for the short term,” Canada captain Sinclair stated on social media. She continued, “This is not over. We will continue to fight for everything we deserve and we will win. The SheBelieves is being played in protest.” 

In the first game of the competition in the United States, the players of the Canadian national team stood for their team picture wearing purple shirts stating “Enough is enough” on top of their traditional kits. The USWNT showed its support by coming together with its opposition through a collaborative pre-game huddle, symbolizing that the players of the Canadian national team are not alone in the fight for equality. 

From uncertainty about compensation to limiting full camp windows and youth teams, these world-class athletes are being forced to prepare in a world-class manner heading into a vital tournament this summer without the necessary supplies to do so. Players have called out the leadership of Canadian soccer, stating that the authority figures should consider stepping down if they can no longer support the team. The lack of transparency is a disgrace to not only the players but the game itself. 

The strike this February only lasted a few days, but given the way the players on both national teams in Canada have been speaking out, they will not rest until an agreement is reached. They just simply could not afford to take the risk of not playing in the games after a year in which they received no compensation for their contributions to the national team. Although it is affecting both genders, you can’t help but sympathize with the women. In Sinclair’s case, this could be her last World Cup. Not being given the backing from your own nation to succeed in it is a real gut punch to the entire sport of soccer in Canada. 

It makes a whole lot of sense why they came out sluggish against the United States to open up the February international window. These players are going through a lot. We can only hope the culture at the top of the federation has a change in heart. As devastating as this is, it is just another example of the amount of work that still needs to be done. 

On March 2nd, the federation agreed to a temporary funding agreement until a permanent contract is signed. The deal is quite similar to the men’s national team, which includes results-based compensation and per-game incentives. More recently, the players felt stunned by some of the details of the new CBA that is going to be proposed by the federation. It looks like it is going to be a long process. The future of women’s athletes in Canada is relying on these change makers. 

Athletes everywhere, especially successful women’s athletes in this case, deserve better. With the support of the soccer community worldwide, these players are not alone in their fight against a pathetic federation that puts the needs of their most critical asset to success, the players, on the back burner.