Canada's Women to Play SheBelieves Cup 'Under Protest'
Canada's women's team had drawn a line in the sand, announcing they would go on strike days before the kickoff of an international tournament, the SheBelieves Cup, in the United States.
But team members had to erase that line after the governing body of soccer in the country, Canada Soccer, threatened legal action against the players.
Now the Olympic gold medalists will play the tournament "under protest" - starting against world champions the United States on Thursday.
How did Canada Soccer and the women's team get here?
The women sat out training in Orlando, one of the tournament‘s host cities, on February 10, to protest equity issues that date back decades.
Such issues include pay equal to the men's team, equal staffing, equal facilities and a host of other matters in which they say the men's team is provided greater funding and respect.
Canada refused to train on Friday but were swiftly threatened with legal action by the Canadian soccer federation.Image: Albert Perez/Getty Images
Canada Soccer spent a total of $11 million (€10.3m) on the men's team and $5.1 million (€4.8m) on the women in 2021.
Both the men's and women's teams are in the midst of negotiating new deals with Canada Soccer. The men decided to boycott a World Cup warm-up match with Panama in June 2022 because of a lag in negotiations.
The women have been playing without a contract since theirs expired in 2021. Players say they have not yet been paid for their work in 2022, though the association says it has resolved that recently by issuing "retroactive" payments.
What are Canada's players saying?
"We expect nothing less than to be treated the same way (as the men) and it's pretty disgusting that we're having to ask just to be treated equally,” said Canada forward Janine Beckie in a Tuesday evening call with media members. "It's a fight that women all over the world have to partake in every single day, but quite frankly we're really sick of it.”
Midfielder Sophie Schmidt, formerly of FFC Frankfurt and now at Houston Dash, was close to tears on the call, saying the squad was "angry, frustrated, appalled and heartbroken” over the dispute. The 34-year-old has already announced her retirement from international football after the World Cup.
Captain Christine Sinclair says Canada's participation at the SheBelieves Cup is merely a 'short-term solution'Image: Chad Hipolito/ZUMA Press/IMAGO
"We are not mad at the men's team. They deserve what they get," added star player Christine Sinclair on Saturday. "They deserved to be treated how they were treated last year (qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar). These teams deserve to have proper preparation for the biggest stage. We're just asking for the same."
Canada's women said they had received words of support from their Canadian male counterparts and from their rivals on Thursday, members of the U.S. women's team, who won a pay equity battle themselves in 2022.
What is Canada Soccer saying?
Canada Soccer offered a statement February 10, insisting it has "a proven track record of supporting women's soccer."
"Pay equity for our Women's National Team is at the core of our ongoing player negotiations. Canada Soccer will not agree to any deal without it,” the statement said.
"We continue to believe that Canada Soccer needs to do more to support our programs and our players. And we continue to believe that unless we stand up together and demand more, nothing will ever change."
"We presented an equity-based proposal to our national teams and their counsel several months ago, and we are still waiting for a definitive response to the terms of that proposal.”
Canada Soccer expects its Olympic champion women's team to challenge the top-ranked Americans in the SheBelieves Cup and compete for the World Cup, which begins on July 20 this year in Australia and New Zealand.
What happens next?
Sinclair says the fight in Canada has to be resolved soon after the SheBelieves Cup.
"There's a FIFA window coming up in April where we have said that if things are not just addressed, if things aren't fixed, we'll not be going to that camp" to prepare for the summer World Cup.
"So (playing this tournament under protest) is a short-term solution," Sinclair added.
Japan, the 2011 world champions, and Brazil complete the field for the SheBelieves Cup, which takes place in Orlando, Florida, Nashville, Tennessee and Frisco, Texas.
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