Canadian women's soccer players threaten strike over 'significant cuts' to program in World Cup year

Canada's players celebrate winning the gold medal after the penalty shoot-out of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women's final football match between Sweden and Canada at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama on August 6, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images)
Canada's women's soccer team won gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. (Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images) (TIZIANA FABI via Getty Images)

Canadian women's national soccer team players are threatening to strike ahead of an upcoming tournament in the United States after Canada Soccer, the sport's national governing body, decided to make "significant cuts" to their program, the players said Friday.

In a statement posted to social media, the CSPA, the Canadian players' association, said that it was "both outraged and deeply concerned" with the lack of support, which comes shortly after a men's World Cup and months before the 2023 women's World Cup.

The players said their preparation for that tournament, which begins in July, was being "compromised"; and that they felt "frustrated" and "deeply disrespected." Janine Beckie, one of the team's stars, said they'd demanded a budget on par with what the men's team got last year.

Instead, the players said, "We've had to cut not only training camp days but full camp windows, cut the number of players and staff invited into camps, significantly limit the already limited youth teams' activities, all while we continue to face immense uncertainty about compensation.

"We have been told that there will be no home game for our team before the World Cup. We have been told, quite literally, that Canada Soccer cannot adequately fund the women's national team, and they have waited to tell us this until now, when we are less than six months from the World Cup."

The players, many of whom won gold at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, concluded by saying they "are committed to do whatever it takes to create public awareness of this crisis and to force Canada Soccer to start to support the national teams properly."

Shortly after posting the statement, two players said on Canadian television that the team would not train until their demands are met. On Friday, they had trained but with their jerseys inside-out in protest.

“Until this is resolved, I can’t represent this federation," Christine Sinclair, the all-time leading scorer in international soccer history, told TSN. "I’m such a competitor, it breaks my heart and kills me to actually be saying those words out loud.”

The Canadian team is scheduled to face the U.S. on Thursday in Orlando, in the SheBelieves Cup, a four-team tournament that serves as an important launching pad and proving ground ahead of the World Cup. It's unclear if the players are willing to play that game, or subsequent ones against Japan and Brazil.

Canada Soccer, in a statement responding to the players, said that its representatives would be meeting with women's players in Orlando on Saturday morning to "continue our discussions" around a collective bargaining agreement.

In its statement, the federation touted its "proven track record of supporting women's soccer," but gave only one example of increased support and did not directly address the players' concerns.

Soon after the women released their statement, Canadian men's players — who refused to train last year amid a contract dispute with Canada Soccer in their own World Cup year — also posted a statement to social media. They said they are "deeply disappointed" by Canada Soccer's actions and "wholeheartedly support" the women.

After the men briefly went on strike last June, the men's and women's players united to call for an investigation into Canada Soccer's governance and finances. They and fans are skeptical of the federation's relationship with a private company, Canada Soccer Business, that is run by the owners of men’s professional club league.

The players have called for transparency, but the federation has not publicly released financial records that might justify what the players believe is a failure to "properly operate Canada Soccer or fairly compensate the players."

The men said Friday that their budget had also been cut. They concluded their statement by urging Canadian minister of sport Pascale St-Onge to "intervene" if Canada Soccer does not “take immediate action to respond to the players’ demands and concerns.”