Captain Christine Sinclair says the ongoing labour dispute with Canada Soccer has left her and other team representatives “exhausted and deflated” as they prepare to face the top-ranked Americans in the opening game of the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday.
At a time when the on-field showdown with their archrival should be front and centre, the women say they are having to fight for equality and transparency off the field.
“As a team we are just at our wits’ end,” Sinclair told reporters Tuesday in a virtual availability from Florida. “This could be our most important fight that we ever have as national team players and it’s one we’re determined to win.”
Added forward Janine Beckie: “It’s pretty disgusting that we’re having to ask just to be treated equally. 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 any more. I just get angry about. Because it’s time, it’s 2023.
“We won the damn Olympic Games and we’re about to go to the World Cup with a team who could win. So we expect to be prepared in the best way possible to go and win a World Cup.”
The U.S. women, who have already fought this fight, have expressed their support for the Canadian team, Sinclair and Beckie said.
The sixth-ranked Canadian women, upset that their grievances have not been addressed by their governing body, downed tools Friday night and said they would not take part in the four-team tournament. But they reluctantly returned when Canada Soccer threatened legal action against them Saturday.
The women say they will play the SheBelieves Cup in protest, but will boycott the next international window unless progress is made. Sinclair said the team is still “talking about any planned protest on the field” at Thursday’s game.
“I’m sure there will be something,” she said.
The Canadian women says they want the same preparation for this summer’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as the men did before their soccer showcase in Qatar last year. Both teams are also protesting cuts to their programs, as well as the youth national sides, and want Canada Soccer to open its books.
“How is it that during a time when both the men’s and women’s programs are at their peak success historically and interest in soccer has not been greater, how are we having budget cuts?” asked veteran Sophie Schmidt. “Not to mention budget cuts in a World Cup year.”
Sinclair said the team, which has not been paid for its 2022 national team work, has not been told why the cuts are happening.
The impasse is chasing Schmidt.
The 34-year-old midfielder from Abbotsford, B.C., who has won 218 caps for Canada, announced she will retire from international football after the World Cup.
“I’m angry, I’m frustrated, appalled and heartbroken,” said Schmidt. “To know that decisions are being made and have been made that bet against our national teams being successful on both the men’s and women’s side is absolutely devastating.”
Schmidt, who plays club football for the Houston Dash, said she was going to retire immediately Saturday and asked to fly home but was asked to sleep on it by coach Bev Priestman.
An emotional Schmidt said Sinclair convinced her to stay and continue the fight. “She talked me off the ledge,” said Schmidt, who nevertheless will call it quits later this summer after being “rocked to my core by the situations that we’re currently in.”
Schmidt said the women’s youth program has only one camp scheduled for this year — “and that is for all age groups.”
Midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, says the lack of youth investment will cost Canada on the field in the “near future.”
The four players prefaced their availability by saying they were not “legally” able to comment on some topics, including possibly speaking before a parliamentary committee.
In a statement Saturday, Canada Soccer says it is committed to “addressing each of the demands made by the players.” And it promised that the labour agreement, once concluded, “will be a historic deal that will deliver real change and pay equity in Canada Soccer.”
It also said the players “were not and are not in a legal strike position under Ontario labour law.”
Beckie called the legal threat “very disheartening.”
“We knew we couldn’t put ourselves or our teammates in that position moving forward. Mostly because we don’t make millions of dollars. So to be sued would put all of us in a very difficult position.”
The players will be eligible to strike come the April international window, with sufficient time (17 days) having passed from a “no-board” notice being issued. That notifies both parties that a board of conciliation will not be appointed.
“We have said if things aren’t fixed, we will not be going to that (April) camp,” said Sinclair.
Beckie, who was at the men’s World Cup in Qatar as a TV analyst, said the women want the same number of staff at their World Cup as the men. The women also want to be active in every international window and to have more players brought into camp.
FIFA covered board and lodging “for up to 50 people from each participating member association” at the men’s tournament.
After the U.S., the Canadian women are due to play No. 9 Brazil on Sunday in Nashville and No. 11 Japan in Frisco, Texas, in SheBelieves Cup play.
Both national 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 Canadian men boycotted a planned friendly with Panama in Vancouver last June over the labour dispute.
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press