Canada’s Women’s National Team (WNT/XNT) will play in the SheBelieves Cup in protest when the tournament begins on Feb. 16. Despite winning gold at the 2020 Olympics, Canada’s players have been embroiled in a battle with their federation for adequate resources and compensation.
Just days before the tournament, Canada Soccer announced cuts to the budgets of their men’s and women’s programs.
Canada players released a statement last Friday detailing a litany of struggles with the federation. Players stated that they have been negotiating with Canada Soccer for more than a year, but were notified of ‘significant cuts’ to their program just months from the 2023 World Cup.
Players from both teams have called for their demands to be met or for a change in leadership. Canada WNT/XNT stated their intention to go on strike until the federation adequately addresses their demands for fair treatment. As promised, the team did not report to team training or show up for meetings the following day, prompting the federation to hold “emergency talks” with the players to convince them to play.
The federation’s method of “convincing” took a turn in which, instead of negotiating with players to resolve the issue, they threatened legal action. Citing Ontario Labour Law, the federation informed players that if they were to strike they would sue them for millions in damages, since the law states there must be a 14-day notice before a strike can be deemed legal.
Given that the federation notified players of budget cuts one week from the start of the SheBelieves Cup, it’s a gross level of weaselishness to lean on a technicality to force the players they’re mistreating out of organized action. Especially when they could instead focus that energy on negotiating to right the wrongs. Meanwhile, the players broke down their demands even further on social media, noting that they weren’t just after money, though there are genuine concerns over mismanagement of funds through Canada Soccer Business, a private company made up of Canadian Premier League owners.
There are 2 larger issues that exist within Canada Soccer:
Lack of transparency
The widely reported deal between Canada Soccer and Canada Soccer Business ensures that the national programs do not benefit from the increased investment in the sport.
Gender Inequity - In the last two years, there have been significant funding discrepancies between the women’s and men’s national programs.
Once it became a legal concern, players were forced to end their strike, in part because they claim they haven’t even been paid for their play in 2022. This would mean that any financial damages awarded from a lawsuit would come from the players’ own pockets – pockets that have been deliberately lightened by the federation.
While Canada players have returned to training and responded to call-ups ahead of the tournament, they have reiterated that cuts to their program ahead of a World Cup are unacceptable. Christine Sinclair, all-time international goalscorer, announced that “SheBelieves is being played in protest.”
When it comes to protest, Canada Soccer is playing a dangerous game. Not only have they managed to infuriate their players and threaten them with legal action over their responses to mistreatment, Canada’s first scheduled game is against the USWNT – a team familiar with battling its own federation.
Multiple players across the world have posted in support of Canada’s players, including Megan Rapinoe, who was a vocal part of the USWNT that entered a World Cup suing U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay. The USWNT also has a history of protest during a SheBelieves Cup, when in 2020 they replaced their team issued warmup shirts with an inside out crest. After they won the World Cup, they used the equal pay lawsuit as confetti, as a reminder.
In a show of solidarity, the U.S. team joined Canada's ahead of their opening matchup on Thursday:
There’s real solidarity all across women’s soccer, particularly in regards to fights for equity and fair treatment. If Canada Soccer refuses to meet its players’ demands and is instead sitting back, feeling as if they’ve won by forcing them to play, there’s a good chance they’ll be embarrassed by collective action on an international stage.