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Women's national soccer team on strike over pay equity issues

Christine Sinclair and Canada's women's national soccer team Christine Sinclair and Canada's women's national soccer team - The Canadian Press

Players on Canada’s women’s national soccer team are on strike because of pay equity issues and budget cuts, less than a week before they are scheduled to play in a tournament in the U.S. and five months before the Women’s World Cup, Christine Sinclair and Janine Beckie said in an interview with TSN.

Sinclair and Beckie said Canada Soccer is not properly supporting the women's program, and that new leadership may be needed.

“Saying that we're outraged is an understatement,” Beckie said. “There's not really words to describe how it feels to be here in camp with the national team and know we are not being given the same resources that our men's team was given last year to prepare for their World Cup… I don't like the word fair. But it is so incredibly unfair to the women, and the staff, and to everyone that supports this team, works for this team, is a fan of this team. We've had enough. It's way, way, too far gone.”

“It hurts, I'm not going to lie,” Sinclair said. “We all represent this country proudly. We've shared some of the greatest moments together. But to not feel that support from your own federation has been hard in the past. But it's gotten to a point where, at least for me personally, until this is resolved I can't represent this federation. I'm such a competitor that breaks my heart and kills me...”

The Canadian men's national team also released a statement later Friday.

Beckie said the players have demanded the same 2023 budget that the men’s national team had a year ago and have also demanded that Canada Soccer arrange for the team to play a game in Canada before this summer’s Women’s World Cup.

Sinclair and Beckie spoke with TSN after the players released a statement on Friday afternoon saying they were “outraged and deeply concerned” with the news of “significant cuts” to the team’s program for 2023.

"If Canada Soccer is not willing or able to support our team, new leadership should be found," the players wrote. "We 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."

The players’ statement says Canada Soccer has cut training camp days, full camp windows, and the number of players and staff invited into camps, as well as scaling back funding for national youth teams.

Members of the Canadian team are in Orlando to prepare for the SheBelieves Cup. Canada is scheduled to play against the U.S., Brazil, and Japan over the next two weeks. The Women’s World Cup is scheduled to take place in Australia and New Zealand from July 20 to Aug. 20. The players said they also have been told the national team will not play a game in Canada before the World Cup.

Sinclair said players began arriving in Orlando three days ago and trained on Friday wearing their jerseys inside out to protest their working conditions.

“The fact that we haven't heard from the Canadian Soccer Association since we put in our demands, they haven't even had the courtesy to reach out to us to schedule an emergency call or anything like that…” Sinclair said. “As a team, we’ve decided to take job action and from this moment on will not be participating in any Canadian Soccer Association activities until this is resolved.”

The players, who won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics, wrote in their statement that soccer in Canada has never been so popular.

"Canada’s national teams have never been more successful, or attracting more corporate dollars," they wrote. "Yet despite these steps forward, we are still stuck asking the same question... where is the funding?"

The players wrote that the men's team was given appropriate funding leading up to their World Cup in Qatar.

“In 2022, significant dollars and resources were poured into our men’s national team to ensure there were no gaps in their preparation for the 2022 Men’s World Cup," the women's team players wrote. "Now that our World Cup is approaching, the women’s national team players are being told to prepare to perform at a world-class level without that same support – to simply make do with less. This is an unacceptable burden to put on the shoulders of our players, especially in the most crucial cycle for our team.  We are left feeling frustrated and, once again, deeply disrespected by Canada Soccer.”

Two Canada Soccer sources told TSN that the national federation is grappling with extensive cuts across both the men’s and women’s programs.

The women’s team’s statement also rekindles questions about Canada Soccer’s ties to a private company called Canada Soccer Business (CSB), which is controlled by owners of the Canadian Premier League, a domestic men’s professional league.

Canada Soccer has a nine-year contract with CSB in which the national federation has given up its media and sponsorship rights to both national teams in exchange for an annual guaranteed fee of between $3 million to $4 million per year. According to a copy of the contract, obtained by TSN, CSB can extend the contract through 2037, paying as little as $3 million per year.

“It's been made very clear what this deal is and how it operates,” Beckie said. “As players, the only way we see forward is if this deal is ripped up... There is truly no way forward for this federation with this deal in place.”

Beckie said that Canada Soccer still has not provided the players with copies of the CSB contract or specifics of this year’s national team budgets.

“Canada Soccer is bringing in these new shiny sponsors whose aim is to grow the game and to support not only the senior national teams but the youth programs, yet where's the money?” Sinclair said. “Our budget has been cut smaller than it has ever been, at least in recent years, so as players it just doesn't make sense anymore.

Canada Soccer issued a statement of their own later Friday evening.