The strike is on.
The Canadian women’s soccer team boycotted training Saturday ahead of emergency talks with Canada Soccer in Florida. And captain Christine Sinclair says she and her teammates won’t take the field until the governing body responds to their grievances.
“Until things move forward, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But we’re not playing,” Sinclair told The Canadian Press.
The impasse is getting ugly.
A source, not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations, said Canada Soccer has threatened legal action toward the women’s players association and the individual players in camp if they continue with their job action and refuse to play in next week’s SheBelieves Cup.
The Canadian men boycotted a planned friendly with Panama in Vancouver last June over the ongoing labour dispute.
The women want the same support ahead of their World Cup, which kicks off this summer in Australia and New Zealand, as the men did last year ahead of their soccer showcase in Qatar.
Sinclair says the “non-negotiables” include seeing the budget breakdown from last year as well as a compensation offer. She says Canada Soccer took its last offer off the table, saying it had to be restructured.
Canada Soccer traditionally publishes its financials in March. But Sinclair says the women’s team can’t negotiate in the dark without knowing what was spent on the men’s team.
Pay equity not in past deals
The governing body has repeatedly said that pay equity will be a pillar of the new deal.
That has not been the case in the past. In 2021, Canada Soccer spent $11 million on the men’s team and $5.1 million on the women. Sinclair notes some $2.5 million of that women’s funding came from Own The Podium, not Canada Soccer.
Sinclair also points out that the men played 19 games that year, including 14 World Cup qualifiers. The women played 17 and won Olympic gold.
“We are not mad at the men’s team. They deserve what they get. 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,” she said.
“The financial struggles of the CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) didn’t just happen overnight. People made decisions in recent years that have put us here. And it just constantly seems like it’s the women’s team that has to take the brunt of it.”
Canada Soccer’s total revenue for 2021 was $33.1 million while expenses were $28.1 million.
The women are scheduled to meet Saturday with Canada soccer president Nick Bontis, general secretary Earl Cochrane and the governing body’s legal counsel.
“We will always support the right of women athletes to fair and equitable compensation. We are proud of our national female athletes and teams, and we fully support them,” Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge told CBC Sports.
“We will contact both parties shortly, and assess the situation to help find a positive resolution.”
The clock is ticking with the Canadian women, the sixth-ranked team in the world, slated to take on the top-ranked U.S. next Thursday to kick off the four-team SheBelieves Cup in Orlando.
The women took part in two training sessions in Florida — with some wearing their shirts inside out as a protest — before deciding to take job action Friday.
Sinclair disputes Canada Soccer claim
Canada Soccer issued a seven-paragraph statement Friday saying it has “a proven track record of supporting women’s soccer.”
“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,” the statement said.
Sinclair disputes that, saying Canada Soccer told them it had to “pause” the compensation package and restructure its latest offer.
“They flat-out just lied in their statement. And now the public’s being lied to,” she said. “That’s how they operate.”
Sinclair, the world’s leading goal-scorer who has won 319 caps for Canada, says Canada Soccer has underestimated the women.
“Our perspective is that they’ve always just assumed we would never take the next step. We’ve always tried to do things the nice, polite, right way, if you will. And it’s gotten us nowhere. If you look around women’s football in general, a lot of women’s teams have had to take this stand at some point to truly make a difference. And this is our time.”
Sinclair says the men’s team is solidly behind the women. Both sides are upset at budget cuts to their program, and what they say is lack of financial transparency by Canada Soccer.
“We’re fighting for the future of this program,” said Sinclair.
The women says the number of players and staff brought into the current camp has been cut, as has its duration. Youth camps have also been reduced as has the number of senior camps this year.
Sinclair says the team has been told it will be shut down for the year after the World Cup and a two-legged Olympic playoff with Jamaica in September.
Player sent demands Thursday
Women who came to the Florida camp from Europe travelled business class while those in North America were supposed to fly economy-plus. Forward Janine Beckie said she had to pay for the upgrade to economy-plus herself for the flight from Portland.
The women sent Canada Soccer a list of their demands Thursday, opting to take job action when they did not get a response. They include playing a home game ahead of the World Cup.
Part of the issue is Canada Soccer’s deal with Canada Soccer Business, which represents all corporate partnerships and broadcast rights related to Canada Soccer’s core assets including its national teams.
Under the deal, Canada Soccer Business pays Canada Soccer an agreed-on amount each year. It keeps the rest under an agreement that helps fund the Canadian Premier League.
“How Canada Soccer is allocating or using funds is unclear and cloaked in secrecy,” the men said in a statement Friday.
The women say the deal with Canada Soccer Business has to be torn up. And their statement Friday called for “new leadership” if the governing body is “not willing or able” to support the team.
Both teams are currently negotiating labour agreements with Canada Soccer. The women’s previous deal expired at the end of 2021.
The men are negotiating their first formal agreement in the wake of forming their own players association, the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association.
The women have their own group, the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association.
The SheBelieves Cup is part of Canada’s preparation for the World Cup, which begins July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.