Women’s soccer denied resources and respect
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It stands to reason the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team — a decorated, venerated team that has put Canadian soccer on the map — should receive the same level of support from Soccer Canada in preparation for the 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the Men’s National Soccer Team received leading up to the World Cup last fall in Qatar.
That’s precisely what the women’s team — helmed by longtime captain Christine Sinclair, an Olympic gold medallist, the world’s all-time leader for international goals scored for men or women, and also among the world’s most-capped, having won more than 300 caps for Canada — asked for in an open letter decrying disrespectful treatment by Soccer Canada: “Enough was enough a long time ago.”
The team is “outraged and deeply concerned” about Soccer Canada’s budget cuts as they prepare for Australia and New Zealand, heading into a major world-stage competition with fewer training-camp days, fewer players and staff invited to camps, no home game prior to the Women’s World Cup, limited youth teams’ activities and uncertainty about pay.
They are calling for transparency on how Soccer Canada is allocating funds, as well as its strangely secretive deal with Canada Soccer Business, which represents several of the organization’s assets, including corporate sponsorships.
The team recently went on a brief strike ahead of the SheBelieves Cup in the United States before being forced back onto the pitch after Soccer Canada threatened them with legal action.
Instead of being able to get their heads in the game, players are having to spend their precious energy fighting for fair treatment and opportunity.
This dispute is not just about resources. It’s also about respect.
Women’s sport has chronically been devalued and dismissed, and often ignored entirely. A 2021 University of Southern California/Purdue University study looking at 30 years of sports coverage in the United States found that 80 per cent of televised sports news and highlights shows included zero — zip, zilch, nada — stories on women’s sports. Whenever there is a small spike in attention paid to women’s sports, as the researchers found in 2019, it’s usually because of women’s achievements in soccer or tennis.
And even then, that’s not enough to change the public perception of men’s sports being “more popular” when in reality, they are often just more visible. When the Canadian men’s team qualified for Qatar, many folks took to social media to congratulate them on ending a 36-year World Cup dry spell for Canada — completely overlooking the women’s team’s far more recent achievements on the Women’s World Cup stage. (Notice, too, how we don’t call the World Cup the Men’s World Cup. Maybe we should start.)
Female athletes are also chronically underpaid. Pay gaps exist in soccer, but other sports as well; per a 2019 Forbes article, WNBA players made $71,635 on average. The average NBA salary: $6.4 million. Bonuses further widen the gap.
In 2022, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won its years-long battle against the U.S. Soccer Federation, which agreed to a landmark US$24-million settlement in a discrimination lawsuit. World Cup bonuses for the U.S. men’s and women’s teams are now equally split.
Perhaps we will see a similar turning point for women’s soccer on this side of the border. Our women’s soccer team — composed of elite athletes and role models who represent Canada with success, grace and talent — deserves to be supported and compensated fully and fairly.
It would be a shame for the beautiful game to continue to be marred by such ugly gender inequalities.
» Winnipeg Free Press