Canadian Women’s National Team Forced To Play In Women’s Empowerment Soccer Tournament
3:45 PM EST on February 13, 2023
Stated goals of the SheBelieves Cup, a popular international women's soccer tournament hosted by the U.S., include inspiring girls and young women to "reach their dreams, athletic or otherwise," and spreading the "powerful message of empowerment and that of believing in yourself."
"In a culture where young girls are often influenced by outdated gender norms, it is the mission of SheBelieves to empower girls to reach their dreams," the SheBelieves website says. "You and your organization can join this mission by spreading messages of positivity and showcasing your athletes and their stories as examples of hope and success." One nation is apparently so determined to showcase its athletes' stories that it is "empowering" them to participate in the tournament against their will.
The SheBelieves Cup is scheduled to start on Thursday and will feature the national teams of Brazil, the U.S., Japan, and Canada, the last of which will be playing under protest. Canada Soccer, the country's governing body for the sport, is forcing the Canadian women's soccer team to participate in the tournament by threatening to sue the players if they walk out to protest pay disparities and budget cuts to their program.
On Friday, the Canadian Soccer Players' Association, which represents the Olympic gold-winning women's national team, announced they would be going on strike to protest Canada Soccer decision to make "significant cuts" to the program just six months before they are set to play in the World Cup:
While we continue our preparation for the World Cup with our new budget reality, we've had to cut not only training camp days but full camp windows, cut the number of players and staff invited into camps, significantly limit the already limited youth teams' activities, all while we continue to face immense uncertainty about compensation. We have been told that there will be no home game for our team before the World Cup. 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.
The statement called for Canada Soccer, which has been long plagued by accusations of mismanagement from both the men's and women's teams, to "live up to its public commitment to gender equity and its obligation as the national governing body for soccer in Canada to advance the sport" and warned that the players were "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."
A day later, the players' tune had changed from righteous to resigned. In another statement, CSPA said that Canada Soccer threatened the players with legal action if they made good on their threat to walk off the job:
Canada Soccer told us that they consider our job action to be an unlawful strike. They told us that if we did not return to work — and did not commit today to playing in Thursday's game against the United States — they would not only take legal action to force us back to the pitch but would consider taking steps to collect what could be millions of dollars in damages from our Players' Association and from each of the individual players currently in camp.
In its own statement, Canada Soccer said that the players were not in a "legal position to strike under Ontario law" and gloated about having forced its own players to shut up and play:
Canada Soccer was not prepared to jeopardize the SheBelieves Cup tournament, the preparation it would afford the Women’s National Team for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, nor the experience it would afford countless fans who had undoubtedly traveled to Orlando to see their National Team heroes. Canada Soccer therefore took the necessary steps to ensure that such games will be played as scheduled.
The Canadian women's soccer team has been in collective bargaining with Canada Soccer for more than a year. One of their demands is pay equity with the men's team, something the USWNT achieved last year in a landmark contract.
"We are not mad at the men's team. They deserve what they get," Canadian team captain Christine Sinclair said on Saturday, per the CBC. "They deserved to be treated how they were treated last year [a World Cup year]. These teams deserve to have proper preparation for the biggest stage. We're just asking for the same."
The Canadian men's soccer team players put out a forceful statement supporting the women's team, bashing Canada Soccer, and calling for the government to intervene.
Since June 2022, 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, and demands that it explain what has happened to millions of dollars that it should be receiving each year from sponsors and other sources. Most recently, without first discussing the issue with either of the National Teams, Canada Soccer decided to substantially cut the budgets for both programs and the associated youth National Teams.
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 USWNT also showed support for their rivals to the north. U.S. star Alex Morgan tweeted her support over the weekend.
Here's where the SheBelieves Cup really has a chance to live up to its lofty goals. Delivering bland statements about inspiring women to be empowered and follow their dreams sounds nice, but building broad solidarity to fight for fair treatment is how it actually happens.