'We can make history' on gender equity, says Hamilton coach after Canada Soccer leadership change
Women coaches in Hamilton hope the new change in Canada Soccer leadership will mean a better chance at achieving gender equity in local coaching and leagues.
In a field that is strongly male dominated, two women coaches told CBC Hamilton that pay and gender equity changes are "a long time coming."
"I think we're in a place right now where we can make history as far as Canada's soccer goes and build towards pay equity on both sides with gender equity on both teams," said Jayashree Pathak, varsity goalkeeping coach for the McMaster University women's soccer team.
On Wednesday, former Olympian Charmaine Crooks was named Canada Soccer's interim president. She replaces Dr. Nick Bontis, who resigned during a board meeting earlier in the week, saying: "While I have been one of the biggest proponents of equalizing the competitive performance environment for our women's national team, I will unfortunately not be leading this organization when it happens. I acknowledge that this moment requires change."
The Canadian men's and women's teams have been demanding that Canada Soccer provide the same backing and preparation for the women's team ahead of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand as it did for the men's team before Qatar.
Both the women's and men's teams also want Canada Soccer to open its books and explain why their programs are being cut in 2023.
Earlier in February, the Canadian men asked for Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge to remove the Canada Soccer leadership if it is "not willing to take immediate action to respond to the players' demands and concerns."
Pathak was part of the McMaster University varsity soccer team as a goalkeeper for years before becoming coach.
As labour equity talks hit an impasse, both the Canadian men's and women's teams planned boycotts to games since June 2022, with the women's team being forced to play in the SheBelieves Cup in February under protest after Canada Soccer threatened legal action.
Pathak described the responses by both the men's and women's teams as "warranted."
"You're looking at a team that just got a gold medal, and has been performing well and has continued to perform, and then to receive news going into their 2023 season that their budgets were being cut," she said of the women's team.
More optimistic about the future
Pathak said she felt more optimistic about the future of women in sports after seeing both the men's and women's teams fight for gender equity.
"It's empowering for a young girl to see the Canadian teams standing up for what they feel is right, and it shows that the athletes are fighting for not just themselves, but for all women athletes and young girls who are growing up in this sport of Canada."
Pathak said with the growing support for a proposed Canadian women's soccer league, "there's a lot of excitement and a lot of optimism" for women athletes.
'The inequity is just so prevalent'
Sharlene Louden of the West Hamilton Youth Soccer Club near Westdale has 30 years of experience in coaching — including in gymnastics and squash.
Louden told CBC Hamilton that seeing Crooks take over as Canada Soccer's interim president and the teams continuing to campaign for pay equity have made her proud.
"It's been a long time coming for sure, and I'm super proud of both Canadian teams for putting their foot on the ground and standing up for what's right," she said. "The inequity is just so prevalent."
Louden said there's a huge discrepancy in the number of men and women coaches in Hamilton, with more men in local positions.
"When I'm at tournaments and coaching, whether for girls or boys, it's rare to see many women coaching. Most often it's a male head coach."
Louden acknowledges the improvements in gender equity are slow, but said they're better than when she started coaching 30 years ago.
"I have hope that change is coming," she said.