Whitby’s Sheridan shines but Canada loses to USA as labour dispute threatens program

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Published February 17, 2023 at 1:39 pm

Canadian and American linked arms in a circle pre-game in a show of solidarity

Whitby’s Kailen Sheridan was tested early and often in the opening game of the She Believes Cup in Orlando, Florida Thursday, making huge stops in the 17th and 75th minutes – the latter from point-blank range – but the Canadians still fell 2-0 to defending champion U.S.A.

But the far bigger story was behind the scenes as the Canadian woman were playing the game and tournament – part of the team’s preparation for this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand – under protest because of funding cutbacks from Canada Soccer and the soccer body’s foot-dragging on instituting promised pay equity to the team.

The squad almost didn’t make it to the pitch at all, rescinding strike action only under the threat of a lawsuit.

Team captain and soccer superstar Christine Sinclair warned Canada Soccer that the squad will go on strike in April – when they will be in a legal position to do so – if their demands are not met. “We’re not gonna back down,” she said.

At the heart of the dispute is Canada Soccer’s announcement that they were making major cuts to the women’s team funding, including the number of players and staff coming to camp, training camp days and needed preparation games leading up the World Cup in July, as well as cuts to youth programs.

“With the biggest tournament in women’s football history less than six months away, our preparation for the World Cup and the future success of the women’s national team’s program are being compromised by Canada Soccer’s continued inability to supports its national teams,” the women said in a statement posted on social media.

National team players were unanimous in their anger at the federation.

“Enough is enough!” was Sheridan’s response, a view echoed by Courtice’s Allysa Chapman, a veteran defender on the national team. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. Enough is enough.”

Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan

Chapman also pointed out that the men’s team, who boycotted a friendly prior to last year’s historic World Cup in Qatar in protest of funding cuts, are in support of the women’s team in their fight. “This is not ‘men vs women.’ We are fighting for the same things.”

Both teams have been embroiled in labour talks for months with Canada Soccer, with the women – sixth-ranked in the world and the defending gold medalists from the Tokyo Olympics – now being told to perform at the highest level without the same level of support that was received by the men’s national team in 2022, and with significant cuts to their program and just months from the World Cup to boot.

The strongest words came from Janine Beckie, who said in a media call Tuesday with Sinclair and veteran Sophie Schmidt that it is “disgusting” to still be asking for equal treatment.

“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. And it’s something that, now, I don’t even get disappointed by anymore. I just get angry about it because it’s time. It’s 2023. We won the damn Olympic Games. We’re about to go to the World Cup with the team who could win it. So we expect to be prepared in the best way possible.”

Schmidt, who had to be talked out of immediately retiring last week by national team coach Bev Priestman – Schmidt will now retire after the World Cup – said during the media call she was “angry, frustrated, appalled and heartbroken” by Canada Soccer’s actions, while Sinclair emphasized that the fight is not yet over.

“We will continue to fight for everything we deserve and we will win.”

Response to the women on social media has been mostly positive, at least in Canada (Americam misogyny is on full display in the comments on some American channels) but the players have heard their share of sexism and misogyny on their Twitter and Instagram feeds here as well.

Canada Soccer, for their part, have promised pay equity is coming and have issued a retroactive payment of $1.7 million to the women’s program but their lack of timely action on the issue – and their reluctance to open their books to show where all the revenue has gone – has not gone unnoticed in Ottawa, with calls from some MPs to have Canada Soccer explain themselves and for Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge to take action.

The bottom line is the women’s team believe their preparations for the World Cup are being “compromised” by Canada Soccer’s “continued inability to support its national teams.”

Further complicating matter is the deal Canada Soccer struck with Canada Soccer Business (CSB), a rather secretive company established to handle sponsorship and other financial matters for Canada Soccer (and fund the Canadian Premier League), which appears to have handcuffed Canada Soccer’s earning ability.

(CSB has promised to come up with the money – and the stadium – to allow Canada to have a send-off game before the World Cup.)

“Despite our strong track record of success,” the team said in a statement, “we continue to be told there is not enough money to adequately fund our program and our youth teams. We are left feeling frustrated and, once again, deeply disrespected by Canada Soccer.”

“We are tired of constantly having to fight for fair and equal treatment, and for a program that will give us a chance to achieve what we know this team is capable of achieving,” the players added. “We need a federation that operates and supports us at the level at which we are expected to deliver — world class.”

Janine Beckie and Kailen Sheridan, wearing their purple shirts, arrive at the stadium in Orlando Thursday

While all that is going on Canada had an important tournament to play in and were joined in solidarity by arch-rival USA, the team Canada defeated in the Olympic semi-finals on route to the championship, in the pre-game warm-up.

With Canada sporting purple warm-up shirts – a colour associated with gender equality – the teams met in the middle of the field in a circle pre-game, arm-in-arm as a show of support for the fight.

All solidarity was put aside when the whistle blew and Canada, looking exhausted, were down 2-0 before the game was 35 minutes old.

The Canadian women will try to get their game right in the second match of the four-team round-robin tournament Sunday against Brazil, who nipped Japan in their opener 1-0.

Sheridan and her teammates conclude the tournament next Wednesday (Feb. 22) against Japan.

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