Canada’s women’s soccer team tells MPs their program is being asked to do more with less

Members of Canada’s Olympic women’s soccer team told a committee of MPs Thursday that their program is stalling because of a lack of support from their governing body.

The team, like its male counterpart, is embroiled in a bitter labor dispute with Canada Soccer, the sport’s governing body. Team captain Christine Sinclair and players Janine Beckie, Sophie Schmidt and Quinn put their case before members of the heritage committee on Thursday.

“There is no greater honor as an athlete than to step onto the stage and represent our country,” Sinclair said in her opening remarks. “These were some of the best moments of our lives. But they didn’t come without disappointment.”

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Addressing a heritage committee hearing looking into safe sports, Team Canada Women’s captain Christine Sinclair describes a meeting she and her teammates had with Canada Soccer officials to negotiate their compensation.

The players issued a scathing critique of Canada Soccer, saying the organization paid male players five times more than female players in 2021. But they said equal pay is only one part of their fight.

They said the women’s program receives less support overall. They said the team has held training camps without fully staffed medical and training teams.

“We as players sometimes have to make choices about what medical treatments to get when staff physical therapists are stretched,” Quinn said. They added that the team also had to reduce the number of players in camp, making it unable to run full-court drills.

Members of the women’s team say they want the same support and backing ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the men’s team received ahead of their football showcase last year in Qatar. Both teams want Canada Soccer to open its books and explain why its schedules are being cut this year.

Canada's Julia Grosso celebrates with teammates after taking the winning penalty kick during the gold medal match at the Tokyo Olympics.
Canada’s Julia Grosso celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning penalty in the penalty shootout in the gold medal match at the Tokyo Olympics. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

“We’ve…succeeded with less and were expected to do more with less,” Becky said. “We are so sick and tired of having to fight the same battle.”

Sinclair told the committee she brought the team’s concerns to former Canada Soccer president Nick Bontis last year but was largely ignored.

“The president of Canada Soccer listened to what I had to say and then in the meeting he referred to it again as ‘What was that thing Christine was doing?’ said Sinclair.

Members of the women’s team, whose previous labor agreement expired at the end of 2021, have reached an agreement in principle with Canada Soccer on compensation for 2022, but say other issues have yet to be resolved.

An MP called the situation a “shame”

Conservative MP and committee member Kevin Waugh said the way the group was treated was “disgraceful”.

“I have a granddaughter who plays soccer because of you,” she said. “It’s not because of the men’s team [Canada Soccer]. It’s because of the Canadian women’s soccer team — what you’ve accomplished over the last ten-plus years.”

Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner noted the meeting was the day after International Women’s Day and asked the players if they could think of any logical reason why Canada Soccer would provide less support to the women’s team.

“Does it cost less to train players?” Heppner asked.

“No. We play with the same size ball, we kick the same size goal, we play on the same size field, we play for the same minutes,” Beckie replied.

The players also said the issues with Canada Soccer go beyond the national team. Schmidt told MPs the organization is responsible for growing women’s soccer in Canada, but has cut youth programming.

“Canada Soccer is treating the women’s game as an afterthought,” he said, adding that failure to grow the game would jeopardize the future of the national team.

“The player development system is broken and women make the national team by accident, not by design,” she said.

Canada Soccer released details of the proposed collective bargaining agreement with both national teams on Thursday, saying it’s time to get the deal done.

“We negotiated in good faith and we want to reach a solution with our national teams. To get there, we need both of our national teams to agree. Our women deserve to be paid equally and they deserve financial certainty going into the World Cup FIFA Women’s 2023,” Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said in a media statement.

Canada Soccer says the proposed labor agreement would pay both teams the same match fee, with the teams sharing equally in match prize money. And it says the Olympic women’s team will become the second-highest-paid women’s national team among FIFA’s 211 member confederations, possibly behind leaders the USA.

But Canada Soccer acknowledges that equal pay doesn’t mean equal dollars when it comes to team budgets, saying the men’s FIFA World Cup competition calendar and qualifying run has “very different costs.”

The players were asked what they did about Canada Soccer’s preemptive release of the proposed deal.

Becky said they felt “disrespected” by the release of information that was meant to be kept at the negotiating table, adding that some of the information Canada Soccer released Thursday was new to them. He said he would say no more on the matter.

“We don’t think it’s the right place to stoop to that level,” he said. “We’re here to talk about it [equity] theme.”

Canada Soccer officials are scheduled to appear before the commission on March 20.

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