Montreal, Canada—— As top women’s footballers from around the world prepare for the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in three months’ time, high hopes will be placed on sixth-placed Canada.
The team is on the verge of winning gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and is now chasing World Cup glory under the leadership of captain Christina Sinclair, the all-time leading scorer for both men and women in international football.
However, the on-field success of Sinclair and her teammates gave way to another battle off the field as they demanded pay equity and more support from the Soccer Association of Canada, the body that governs football in the country.
“This is a turning point,” Carrie Serwetnyk, a former Canadian national team player and the first woman inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame, told Al Jazeera of the team’s very public battle.
Serwetnyk said the issues Canada’s women’s players have raised in recent weeks — ranging from a lack of funding for training, staffing and other resources ahead of the World Cup, to the disparity in pay and opportunities compared with the men’s national team — are nothing new.
But, Serwetnyk said, it was the players who were willing to speak out and demand solutions to problems that had persisted for decades. “Just winning the Olympics and qualifying for the World Cup and then their funding gets cut? That’s it for them,” she said.
“In the end, they hit the brakes and said, ‘No, we’re not doing this anymore.'”
‘Outrage and deep concern’
The Canadian women’s national team, which has been without a collective agreement since 2021, publicly expressed their longstanding dissatisfaction with Canadian football on Feb. 10.
In a statement issued by their union, the Canadian Football Players Association, the players said they were “outraged and deeply concerned” by the news of the drastic cuts in funding and warned that their World Cup preparations were being impacted.
With games set to start in July, teams said they were forced to cut back on the training camp window and the number of players and staff invited, while facing “substantial uncertainty about compensation.”
Players say they do not receive the same level of support as the men’s national team, which last year qualified for its first World Cup in 36 years, and have been told to “spend less money”.
“We are tired – tired of constantly fighting for fair and equal treatment and for a goal that will give us a chance to achieve what we know this team is capable of achieving for Canada,” they wrote in announcing their planned strike. plan of struggle.”
Now is the time, and we are taking action. pic.twitter.com/QbVbhTcdDU
— Canadian Football Players (@PlayersCanadian) February 10, 2023
Canadian Soccer responded quickly, saying on Feb. 11 that the team’s strike action was illegal under Ontario labor laws.
The governing body said it held a meeting with the players union and “took the necessary steps” to secure their participation in the SheBelieves Cup in the US later that month. “The Canadian Football Association is encouraged that the women’s national team players will play as promised,” it said.
but the players explain They are forced to return to the field under threat of legal action, potentially costing their union and training camp players millions of dollars. “‘She Believes’ was played in protest,” sinclair wrote on twitter.
protested during the game canadian player Wear a purple wristband to call for equality again.
They also wore purple warm-up shirts emblazoned with “Enough” ahead of their Feb. 16 game against the U.S. women’s national team, which has fought sexism for years and won it in 2022. Equal pay for equal work.
“While we are now on the other side of this fight and can focus on our game on the field, our counterparts in Canada and elsewhere are experiencing the same pervasive misogyny and inequality that we face, ’” Team USA said in a statement. statement Before kickoff.
Canada Men’s National Team take its weight Behind the women’s back, the Canadian Soccer Federation was asked to explain how it allocated funds because the process was “confidential”. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to grow the game in Canada, and the current leadership of the Canadian Football Federation is putting that opportunity at risk,” the people said.
inspiring solidarity @USWNTPlayers for their opponents @PlayersCanadian and female players around the world.pic.twitter.com/mUOsN1SzYg
—FIFPRO (@FIFPRO) February 17, 2023
call for action
Helen Stoumbos, a member of the Canadian national team in the 1990s and co-founder of the Canadian Women’s Soccer Alumni Association, said the federation needs systemic change, which can only happen if it first ensures “accountability and transparency” in Canadian football.
Stoumbos said she and her teammates have also dealt with issues like those raised today, but many were afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation.
“I [knew that] If I had spoken that day, I would have left.we just shut up because [we] Just want to play,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that the experience can be damaging to players.
“It really affects your preparation,” said Stoumbos, the first Canadian soccer player — male or female — to score in a World Cup. “You just want to focus on the game. The last thing you want is to have to worry about anything else.”
While it’s disappointing to see team members still fighting for equal opportunity after 25 years, a recent wave of public pressure on Canadian soccer has forced the governing body to act, she said.
“They’ve been trying to get a contract for, I don’t know how many years now,” she said. “It attracted media attention and [public] Let them really start making progress on something. “
In late February, CFA president Nick Bontis resigned after CFA leaders said they had lost confidence in his leadership. “I acknowledge that this moment needs to change,” Bontis said in a statement.
together 🤝# we can pic.twitter.com/WtZ1fdMxil
— WNT of CAN Soccer (@CANWNT) April 11, 2023
Days later, the governing body said it had reached an interim funding deal with the women’s team for 2022, and on March 9 it also revealed some details of a new collective bargaining agreement it was negotiating with the men’s and women’s national teams.
It said the deal would include equal pay for equal work, equal funding for World Cup qualification and sharing of prize money. “The time has come for an agreement,” Canadian Football Federation general secretary Earl Cochrane said in a statement.
“We have been negotiating in good faith and hope to reach a resolution with our national teams,” the statement said. “In order to get there, we need both of our national teams to agree. Our women deserve equal pay and they deserve Financial security ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.”
“It Helps Girls Dream”
But questions about the alleged mismanagement and lack of financial transparency by Canada Soccer’s team remain unanswered — last month, the women voiced their displeasure to a Canadian parliamentary committee that is investigating the federation.
The success of the women’s and men’s teams, combined with Canada’s co-hosting of the 2026 Men’s World Cup, makes now an opportune time to make meaningful change, Stoumbos said – although external pressure will be crucial.
“Hopefully they’ll keep pushing the envelope and make sure that when all is said and done, something actually happens,” she said.
Meanwhile, Serwetnyk — who is also the co-founder of Equal Play, a nonprofit advocating for women’s soccer — said the team’s movement is sending an important message, especially to young women struggling to achieve their goals. and girls.
“Not every girl wants to play football, but she might dream of other paths, and when you see other women succeed, … it helps girls to dream bigger for themselves,” she told Al Jazeera.
“The great thing about the women’s national team strike is they’re saying, ‘No, we’re going to fight for this.'” They’re fighting for future generations and it really matters that they win. They must win this battle. “