The strike is on.
The Canadian women’s soccer team boycotted training Saturday ahead of emergency labour talks with Canada Soccer in Florida. And captain Christine Sinclair says the players 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 that 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 programs this year — 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.
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.
Hotel accommodations in Orlando are also problematic, with the women sharing rooms.
While Sinclair, who is rooming with Sophie Schmidt, stressed that travel and hotel conditions are not the “be-all and end-all,” she noted that the men flew business class and had their own hotel rooms in preparing for their World Cup.
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.
Canada Soccer saw the deal — announced in March 2018 — as short-term pain for long-term gain. But it soon found its hands tied in terms of reaping the financial awards of the women winning Olympic gold and the men becoming the toast of CONCACAF in returning to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
The prize money from the men’s World Cup — Canada earned US$9 million from the tournament purse plus US$1.5 million to prepare for the soccer showcase — is not part of the Canada Soccer Business deal.
“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.
In their statement, the men also demanded action.
“If the current leadership of Canada Soccer is not willing to take immediate action to respond to the players’ demands and concerns, we ask that the Minister of Sport, the Honourable Pascale St-Onge, intervene to remove them, and mandate that new Canada Soccer leadership be named and required to comply with its mandated objectives and all legal requirements, as supported by federal funding,” the men said.
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.