After hearing that their own federation had cut funding less than six months away from the biggest tournament of their lives, the players with the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team (CANWNT) had enough.
CANWNT took action by not showing up to training on Feb. 10 as an act of protest against Canada Soccer’s recent budget cuts.
“It’s time to take a stand,” Canada’s national soccer team captain Christine Sinclair said. “We’re preparing for the biggest tournament of our lives and don’t feel fully equipped to do so.”
And they’re right. It’s possible that this dispute over transparency, equality and fairness could affect Canada’s ability to remain competitive on the world stage. It could do harm to the team’s ability to compete.
The team received news from Canada Soccer while training in Orlando, Fla., for the SheBelieves Cup that’s set to take place later in the month.
Feeling outraged was an understatement, Janine Beckie said, a forward for the team.
“There’s not really words to describe how it feels to be here in camp with the national team and know we’re not being given the same resources that our men’s team was given last year to prepare for their World Cup,” Beckie said.
As a result of the funding cuts, there’s been a shortage of staff at training camps, lack of players being brought in for training, as well as significant cuts to youth programs.
CANWNT sent Canada Soccer a list of demands they need accommodated in order to return to training.
The list included their team having the same budget that the men’s team received for their World Cup preparation, transparency in regards to the men’s National Team budget, and a home game before their FIFA World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
In return, Canada Soccer sent them litigative threats, both against the team and individual players.
According to Canadian and provincial labour laws, employees working with a valid collective bargaining agreement and walking off the job, known as a wildcat strike, are illegal.
Besides the strike’s unlawful nature, the players said they simply couldn’t afford to pay millions to a federation that hasn’t paid them in the first place.
“As individual players who have received no compensation yet for any of our work for Canada Soccer in 2022, we cannot afford the risks that personal action against us by Canada Soccer will create,” CANWNT said in a statement posted to Twitter.
The women’s team reluctantly returned to the field on Feb. 12.
In alliance with the women’s team’s demands, the Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team expressed their frustrations with Canada Soccer in a statement posted to Twitter.
The team denounced Canada Soccer’s leadership and alleged mismanagement of its budgets, pointing towards its lack of transparency of financial records.
“How Canada Soccer is allocating or using funds is unclear and cloaked in secrecy,” the men’s National Team said.
The team also mentioned Canada Soccer’s partnership with Canada Soccer Business (CSB) and how the 2018 agreement between the two sits at the core of the organization’s testy relationships with its players.
“It has been reported that the agreement was never properly approved, and that despite having an opportunity to annul or terminate the agreement when its terms were breached by Canada Soccer Business, Canada Soccer did not do so,” the men’s National Team said.
In 2018, CSB struck an eight-year deal with Canada Soccer that was set to last from 2019 to 2027.
The contract outlined that starting Jan. 1, 2019, CSB was to pay Canada Soccer a guaranteed fee each year that starts at $3 million and climbs annually to top out at $3.5 million by 2027. In exchange, Canada Soccer would provide CSB with all broadcasting and sponsorship rights for both national teams.
In Rick Westhead’s article published July 13, 2022, multiple Canada Soccer board members said the contract was not approved by the board.
“Every time we have asked for information about Canada Soccer Business, the board has been shut down,” former Canada Soccer board member Ryan Fequet said. “The board absolutely did not approve this contract.”
Fequet pointed to the opportunity that Canada Soccer had to end its contract with CSB when they didn’t pay them the agreed upon $3.05 million during 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling many games and events that year.
CSB however, only gave $1.2 million.
This is not the first time that Canada Soccer had neglected due process, having to do with governance and board-level decisions.
Leanne Nicolle, a former Canada Soccer board member, said she learned of Bev Priestman’s hiring through the media in October 2020.
Originally, Rhian Wilkinson was set to replace former national women’s team coach Kennth Heiner-Møller. However, her contract soon became null after she inquired about available budgets for assistant coaches and other staff.
“Hiring a national team coach is a big decision,” Nicolle said. “When people ask for transparency, there is a complete absence.”
As for the remainder of the national women’s season this year, Sinclair said that after the World Cup and an Olympic playoff later on in the year, they’ve been told that’s all the budget has in store for their team.
The budget cuts will also affect the youth program for the 2023 season, which Beckie said would materialize later on as problems for the future of the women’s team.
“The reality is there’s not enough talent coming through the system to help older players move on, Beckie said.
Sinclair also wanted to make it clear during a call with the media that player compensation for games is a very small part of the changes they’re seeking.
“It runs much deeper than what players make per game,” she said. “It’s time we are treated like the men.”
It’s safe to say the time is now for women’s soccer players to be given equitable opportunities as their male counterparts.
If their teams, both youth and adults, aren’t given the chance to make a name for themselves within the soccer world, who knows where the future of Canadian women’s soccer lies. Indeed, where Canada’s soccer is at now threatens its future chance of remaining a world power.