Photo by PiggyBank on Unsplash
A rumbling dispute has erupted into a full-scale row in the world of Canadian Soccer. The women’s team has been calling for transparency and equal pay with the men’s soccer team. Instead, they have received notice that their funding is to be cut. The announcement comes in the run-up to the Women’s World Cup and, according to ex-international soccer star Kaylyn Kyle, is a ‘slap in the face’.
Players on strike
The reigning Olympic champions announced they would not participate in any team activities until the dispute was resolved. Team activities include playing. They were due to face United States, Brazil, and Japan in the SheBelieves Cup. Instead, Canada captain Christine Sinclair said that the national team would go on strike.
However, the players were threatened with legal action and forced to play the opening SheBelieves match against the USA. Unsurprisingly, they found themselves unable to play to the standard you would expect from a world-class side.
Concerns over transparency
Sinclair says that the lack of funding will compromise their ability to perform at the 2023 Women’s World Cup. There is real anger over pay disparity and a lack of transparency between the men’s and women’s teams. The teams do not believe that there is a lack of money in the game but that it is not being spent fairly. In addition, there is a lack of clarity in the cash flowing between Canada Soccer and Canada Soccer Business. The players believe that, as a result, funds are being diverted from the national team.
What is Canada Soccer?
Canada Soccer is the official governing body, while Canada Soccer Business represents the top tier of the country’s footballing assets. Canada Soccer Business is responsible for all corporate partnerships and media rights for the men’s national team, the women’s team, the Canadian Championship, The Canadian Premier League, and League 1 Canada.
Is sponsorship the answer?
It would be easy to think that sponsorship could be the answer to closing the funding gap. The problem is that there are already significant sponsorship deals in place. Corporate partnerships exist with Carlsberg, GoGo Squeeze, Nike and GE Appliances, to name but a few.
There is a growing interest in wagering on soccer now that Ontario has a regulated and legalized commercial market. In addition, single-event sports betting is now legal in every province in the country. To date, big-name gambling companies have not become involved in soccer sponsorship. However, there are currently partnerships for NHL, NBA, and NFL with BetMGM, Proline and FanDuel, so they might have their eyes on the soccer sponsorship opportunities. ComeOn! is the official sports betting and online casino partner for CFL, but so far, none of the new online casinos or betting platforms have ventured into soccer sponsorship.
Players demanding clarity
Based on recent comments from the players, however, it is not more sponsorship money that is needed, but more transparency. They say money is not flowing through to the players and the facilities. For this reason, they have announced they will be going on strike. Both Canada’s men’s and women’s teams have issued statements complaining about budget cuts to the women’s team. The players are asking for clarity and answers from the federation.
In February, the women’s team announced they would wear purple armbands as a protest symbol. They want gender equality in the game. They say they will continue to wear the armbands until their association has standards that ensure equal treatment and opportunity. Other teams around the world, including the English Lionesses and the Australian Matildas, donned purple armbands to show support.
This was in response to Canada Soccer’s announcement of a reduction in funding to the women’s team. The women’s team has not minced their words about their anger at the news.
In a tweet on February 10th, they said they were ‘outraged and deeply concerned’. They feel that their chances of success are being compromised by a lack of support from Canada Soccer. For example, no home games have been arranged for the team in the run-up to this year’s World Cup. In contrast, a men’s home fixture is taking place at BMO Field in Toronto this spring.
Not only are Canada holders of the Women’s Olympic title, but they are also among FIFA’s top-ranked women’s soccer nations. However, Kyle said it was hard to imagine they could succeed in this year’s World Cup as so much energy is being diverted to activity off the pitch.
“You saw the opening game against the US Women’s National Team and at [the] SheBelieves Cup,” explains Kyle. “We were mentally fatigued. We looked exhausted. We literally looked like we had nothing in our legs because of everything that they’re going through.”
Canada’s men’s team also put out a statement in support of the women’s team. They said that the way in which Soccer Canada uses their funds is cloaked in secrecy. The statement declares solidarity with the women and says
“We, the players, are committed to doing the best for each other, the fans, and the future of soccer in Canada”.
It goes on to say
“We demand that Canada Soccer fulfil its obligations as the governing body of soccer in Canada, stop the unlawful use of players’ names and likenesses, address the violation of proper governance, provide full disclosure and the transparency required of a national body of a major sport”.
The men’s team has called on Canada Soccer to deal with the Players’ Association in good faith and to adequately fund the men’s, women’s, and youth teams. Their concerns are so serious that they are calling on the country’s Minister of Sport to intervene, and a parliamentary committee is calling for evidence. One of their primary concerns is how funding has been channelled by Canada Soccer Business to the owners of for-profit minor league clubs
It is apparent that the problems in Canadian soccer are deep-rooted, and there appears to be a total breakdown in trust between players and the association. Nick Bontis, former head of Canadian Soccer, has resigned. In addition, Charmaine Crooks and Kelly Brown have been appointed to the board, which is now 46% female. However, without appropriate action, these appointments will do nothing to ease the issues.
Pumping in more sponsorship money is not the answer when the question is, ‘where has the existing money gone’?