The American women's soccer team's 3-0 win over Canada in Toronto Sunday was perhaps most notable for Canadian-born striker Sydney Leroux's late goal for the U.S., and her subsequent celebration that sparked criticism from Canadian fans and media members. A day later, that furor has only intensified thanks to Leroux tweeting that her celebration was in response to Canadian fans chanting racial slurs:
When you chant racial slurs, taunt me and talk about my family don't be mad when I shush you and show pride in what I represent. #america
— Sydney Leroux (@sydneyleroux) June 3, 2013
(Update: Leroux later specified in a statement that the slurs in question came not Sunday, but last year during Olympic qualifying in Vancouver. However, she has taken plenty of racist abuse on Twitter recently. International soccer governing body FIFA doesn't police fans' Twitter comments, though, and the time that's passed since when Leroux says fans uttered racist chants at her (something that can lead to significant punishment for a team from FIFA) means severe FIFA sanctions for Canada appear unlikely at this point. However, Leroux's comments may cause FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Organization to take a long, hard look at doing more anti-racism campaigns in Canada, especially ahead of the 2015 Women's World Cup here.)
Leroux's long been a magnet for anger from some Canadian soccer fans thanks to her choice to play for the Americans. She was born in Surrey, B.C. and played for B.C.-based school and club teams and even the Canadian national U-19 team before moving to the U.S. for her Grade 11 year of high school and joining the American national team program. She was eligible to play for the U.S. thanks to her American father, Ray Chadwick, a baseball player who briefly made it to the bigs with the (then-California) Angels in 1986. (Chadwick now lives in Canada and is the baseball coach for the Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack; the diamond connections go beyond him, too, as Leroux's mother Sandi played third base for Canada's national softball team.) Leroux's decision to choose the U.S. over Canada has sparked plenty of taunts from Canadian fans over the years, including "Judas" chants during her stunning five-goal performance at last year's Olympic qualifiers in Vancouver. However, this appears to be the first time she's publicly alleged that Canadian fans have chanted racial slurs at her.
Sunday's game was played before a packed house of 22,453, the largest soccer crowd ever at BMO Field, and lots of those fans were hardcore Canadian supporters who were taunting Leroux every time she touched the ball. However, Leroux's tweet Monday was the first mention that those taunts were race-based. It's worth noting that the chants certainly got uncomfortable for even some hardcore fans, though, as Canadian Soccer News' Daniel Squizzato writes about his experience Sunday (notable, though, that he insisted Monday there weren't organized racist chants):
Were some of the chants being directed at Leroux over the line? That's a matter of personal opinion, of course, and I'm not entirely sure what the TV microphones did or didn't pick up. But suffice to say that I consciously chose not to participate in some of them. If you've followed my writing or tweeting for any amount of time, you've just gotten a decent idea of what levels of inappropriateness are at play.
If there were racist chants against Leroux, that's a huge blemish on the Canadian soccer scene, especially if witnesses are able to corroborate her account. No athlete should have to endure taunts about their race. Moreover, that's something that could have long-term consequences for Canadian soccer: world soccer governing body FIFA takes racist taunts very seriously, and recently passed a new package of stiff potential penalties for clubs whose fans are found guilty of racist taunts, which could include fines, closed-door matches (where no fans are allowed to attend), point reductions and even suspensions from tournaments. It's unclear if those penalties will apply to national teams as well, but FIFA would be very interested in a serious accusation of racism here, especially considering that Canada will be hosting the Women's World Cup in 2015. Thus, if Leroux is willing to make a case before FIFA, and if she can find corroborating witnesses, this could get extremely bad for Canadian soccer. (TSN's Jason deVos suggests that her comments about racism may be related to something that happened in Vancouver last year, in which case they would be much more difficult to prove given the time delay. However, he adds that the Canadian Soccer Association and the United States Soccer Federation are both looking into the situation.)
What's not in question is that Leroux has certainly taken racist and other extremely vulgar abuse from fans in other forums. One of the most notable is on Twitter, where people have made a whole range of incredibly offensive comments about her. (Language warning: you can see these via a Twitter search for comments sent to @sydneyleroux, particularly immediately after Sunday's game, but there's a whole lot of very foul language in there.) Racist, sexist and vulgar remarks about her show up on plenty of websites' comments' sections too. Thus, she certainly has experienced racist abuse from Canadian fans, and her complaint's definitely justified on that front. However, it only becomes a FIFA matter if it happens in person at a match. It's going to be very interesting to see what the CSA and USSF turn up here. Either Leroux's allegation will be recanted or clarified, or Canadian soccer may be in serious trouble.