As promised, the Canadian women’s soccer team returned to training Sunday in Florida.
But they did so under protest after Canada Soccer threatened legal action if they continued their job action.
“We are being forced back to work for the next few weeks.” midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, said on social media. “While stepping on a field continuing to provide labour for an organization that upholds gender inequality goes against every fibre of my being, I will continue to do so (for now) in protest.”
Added captain Christine Sinclair: “To be clear. We are being forced back to work for the short term. This is not over. We will continue to fight for everything we deserve and we will win. The She Believes (Cup) is being played in protest.”
The sixth-ranked Canadian women are scheduled to open the four-country tournament on Thursday against the top-ranked U.S. in Orlando.
The Canadian women boycotted training Saturday, saying they would not take the field unless Canada Soccer addressed their grievances. They were supported by the Canadian men, who refused to play a friendly against Panama in Vancouver last June over dissatisfaction with ongoing labour talks.
The women are demanding the same backing in preparing for this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand that the men received last year before Qatar. And they want Canada Soccer to open its books.
Both teams are also upset at cuts to their program this year.
In a statement Saturday night, Canada Soccer said the players “were not and are not in a legal strike position under Ontario labour law.”
“Canada Soccer was not prepared to jeopardize the SheBelieves Cup tournament, the preparation it would afford the women’s national team for the upcoming World Cup, nor the experience it would afford countless fans who had undoubtedly travelled to Orlando to see their Olympic heroes,” it said.
The governing body said it took “the necessary steps” to ensure that such games will be played as scheduled.
“Canada Soccer has heard the women’s national team and has committed to a path to addressing each of the demands made by the players. But Canada Soccer knows that is not enough. There is still work to do.”
It said a labour settlement “once concluded, will be a historic deal that will deliver real change and pay equity in Canadian Soccer. It is a goal worth getting right.”
In a separate statement, the women said Canada Soccer told them if the job action continued it “would not only take legal action to force us back to the pitch, but would consider taking steps to collect what could be millions of dollars in damages from our Players’ Association and from each of the individual players currently in camp,” the women said.
“As individual players who have received no compensation yet for any of our work for Canada Soccer in 2022, we cannot afford the risks that personal action against us by Canada Soccer will create. Because of this, we have advised Canada Soccer that we will return to training (Sunday) and will play in the SheBelieves Cup as scheduled.”
Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane and president Nick Bontis held emergency talks with the team after Sinclair and other players said they could no longer represent the federation unless the issues around the national teams were resolved.
The governing body has repeatedly said that pay equity will be a pillar of the new deal.
That has not been the case in the past. In 2021, Canada Soccer spent $11 million on the men’s team and $5.1 million on the women. Sinclair notes some $2.5 million of that women’s funding came from Own The Podium, not Canada Soccer.
The men played 19 games that year, including 14 World Cup qualifiers. The women played 17 and won Olympic gold.
“We are not mad at the men’s team. They deserve what they get. They deserved to be treated how they were treated last year (a World Cup year). These teams deserve to have proper preparation for the biggest stage. We’re just asking for the same,” Sinclair said before Saturday’s meeting.
“The financial struggles of the CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) didn’t just happen overnight. People made decisions in recent years that have put us here. And it just constantly seems like it’s the women’s team that has to take the brunt of it.”
Canada Soccer’s total revenue for 2021 was $33.1 million while reported expenses were $28.1 million.
The labour dispute has drawn attention.
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, a member of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, suggested the parliamentary committee should look into Canada Soccer.
“I think it is crucial we now move this organization to the top of the list and hear from Women’s Team members as well,” he said on Twitter.
And the Canadian men’s team, in an open letter Friday, asked for the government to intervene.
The women sent Canada Soccer a list of their demands Thursday, opting to take job action when they did not get a response. They include playing a home game ahead of the World Cup.
“We stand with Canada’s women’s national team,” Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CEO of Canadian Women & Sports, said on social media. “This team has expanded the national view of what’s possible for women’s sport in Canada. There are essential players in the growing movement to support more opportunities for girls and women in sport at all levels. They deserve to be treated equitably. The time is now.”
A key part of the labour impasse is Canada Soccer’s deal with Canada Soccer Business, which represents all corporate partnerships and broadcast rights related to Canada Soccer’s core assets including its national teams.
Under the deal, Canada Soccer Business pays Canada Soccer an agreed-on amount each year. It keeps the rest under an agreement that helps fund the Canadian Premier League.
Canada Soccer saw the deal — announced in March 2018 — as short-term pain for long-term gain. But it soon found its hands tied in terms of reaping the financial awards of the women winning Olympic gold and the men becoming the toast of CONCACAF in returning to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
The prize money from the men’s World Cup — Canada earned US$9 million from the tournament purse plus US$1.5 million to prepare for the soccer showcase — is not part of the Canada Soccer Business deal.
“How Canada Soccer is allocating or using funds is unclear and cloaked in secrecy,” the men said in a statement Friday.
Both 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.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press