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Charity highlights pay inequality in pro sports during WNBA weekend in Toronto

Laeticia Amihere South Carolina Gamecocks Laeticia Amihere - Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Growing up in Mississauga, Ont., Laeticia Amihere loved basketball, but she couldn't see herself in the Toronto Raptors players she regularly watched.

She hopes that other Canadian girls and young women who watch this Saturday's game between the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena — the first ever WNBA game north of the border — will have a different experience.

"It's going to be tremendous," said Amihere from Atlanta, where she plays for the WNBA's Dream. "I wasn't able to kind of look up to WNBA players, because they didn't have the TV channels in Canada, and obviously, there was no team in Canada.

"So for the young athletes being able to watch and attend these games, I think it's going to be crucial for them to be able to look up to our athletes."

Amihere is one of several athlete-ambassadors for Fast & Female, a Canadian charity fighting for women’s equality in sports and empowering girls through sport and activity. It's her hope that the WNBA game raises awareness about gender inequality in professional sports.

"They're helping bridge the gap," said Amihere. "I think these kinds of conversations are very difficult, especially for us athletes to be so outspoken about it.

"(Fast & Female) is creating a platform for us to use our voices and talk about the inequalities and be a pillar of equality."

Canadian soccer star Janine Beckie says the WNBA exhibition game is an incredible opportunity to raise awareness of pay inequality.

"I think the WNBA, over the last couple of years, has garnered a lot of attention, deservedly," said Beckie, who was in Toronto for ongoing negotiations between Canada Soccer and its national team players.

"I think there's some really incredible athletes whose talent is still yet to be seen. For a new fan base to be able to indulge in that sport and see those athletes in the first of what I hope to be very many more WNBA games on Canadian soil."

Fast & Female is starting an eye-catching campaign to bring attention to one of the more surprising pay discrepancies in professional basketball.

Because the highest-paid NBA mascot earns close to three times the WNBA's highest paid player, Fast & Female has introduced its own mascot for this weekend's festivities: Ally, an ally for pay equity.

Gabriela Estrada, the executive director of the registered charity, said that education is at the heart of Fast & Female's programming.

"What we're trying to do in terms of empowering girls is we look to run events and programs in collaboration with like-minded individuals and organizations across the country," said Estrada. "Ultimately, we're trying to show our participants that there's a space for them and a place for them.

"We offer girl-focused and girl-centred opportunities and do things like educate them on the barriers that girl faces for physical activity, but then we also want to empower them."

The game between Chicago and Minnesota will air from a sold-out Scotiabank Arena at 4 p.m. ET on both TSN and Sportsnet with an all-female broadcast team. Meghan McPeak will do play-by-play, Amy Audibert will provide colour commentary and Nikki Reyes will be the sideline reporter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2023.