Canada's shame

It's time for action

It’s fitting, in a way, that the moment that Canadian soccer crossed over from the world of niche weirdos on obscure internet bulletin boards, to something approaching the mainstream, involved a loss.

On an unusually sunny day in Manchester in the summer of 2012, Canada and the USA played one of the best games in the history of women’s soccer. In fact, the Olympic semi-final that took place that day should be talked about as being among the best games of soccer played in this century, regardless of gender.

Driven by the GOAT herself, Christine Sinclair, Canada led the Americans three times that day. Three times the favourites came back to tie. It was a chippy, intense and dramatic game that was ultimately won by the U.S. with a goal in Extra Time.

What made the game so famous and important among Canadians, however, was that the American’s third goal very likely should not have happened. If you are too young to remember, or new to the game, it went down like this:

Canadian keeper Erin McLeod was called for holding the ball too long in the box and the U.S. was given a indirect free kick from about 15-yards out. The call was baffling as, although in the laws, it’s simply never called at the elite level. The action it is designed to prevent – time wasting – can be dealt with by the referee giving out a yellow card to the keeper.

Giving a free kick 15 yards from goal was the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.

It later came out that U.S. forward Abby Wambach was essentially intimidating the Norwegian referee to make the call, barking 10-9-8…(the keeper can hold the ball for 10 seconds) into her ear every time McLeod held the ball.

The whole thing hit all the buttons for Canadians—a feeling of being cheated by the big, bad bully to the south is kinda our jam (Aside: Americans generally accept that the call was unexpected, but view Wambach as deserving of credit for “doing what was needed” to give the U.S. an advantage. There are culturally differences between the two countries, and perceptions of this game underline them well).

Anyway, the purpose of this trip down memory lane is to argue that it was what propelled Canadian soccer into the mainstream more than any other. It’s difficult to argue otherwise. The only thing that comes close is the general idea that MLS came to Canada.

Which brings me to the headline of the article – Canada’s shame.

You see, despite the headlines that Sinclair and Co. grabbed in 2012. Despite the fact that they went on to not only win the bronze medal game in 2012, but to also repeat the performance (in an overall much more impressive performance) in 2016. And, even though they successfully (off the pitch, anyway) played host to the 2015 World Cup…despite all of that…

The Canadian Soccer Association in (lack of) coordination with Canadian private sports business has failed to grow the women’s game in any significant way. They have barely played friendlies here, haven’t kept up with other countries as they improve at the senior national level (a decade ago Canada was significantly better than England, for instance. Now, it’s the opposite and the gap is growing) and, most glaring of all, there still isn’t a professional team in this country for players to aspire to play for.

In fact, there’s barely even any elite amateur teams outside of the three major cities.

It’s pathetic. Yes, pathetic. There’s no other way to express it. A modern, nation – that claims to be progressive – with a population of 37,589,262, according to my Google Assistant  – does not have a single fully professional women’s sports team.

EVEN IN HOCKEY! The now-defunct CWHL was best described as semi-pro, with the star players getting the majority of their income through the COC Own The Podium program. The Toronto Six are scheduled to begin play in the 2021 NWHL bubble season. Time will tell whether they live up to the label of fully professional. Hopefully, they do, but even if that’s the case one pro women’s team in a nation this big and rich is still PATHETIC.

A women’s league that we know to be fully pro is the NWSL we also know that there isn’t a NWSL team in Canada, despite there being three MLS teams here and the CSA being a partner in the NWSL, paying the salaries of the allocated Canadians in the league.

It’s here that I could go into a detailed and logical argument that spoke to the business and ethical arguments that there needs to be a NWSL club (or two. Or three.) in Canada, but I’m sick of making that argument.

It’s utterly and absolutely shameful that there isn’t. What’s that word I used again? Oh, yeah, it’s PATHETIC.

Is it a business risk? Sure. Every new sports team is. But, it’s a hell of a lot less of a business risk than launching TFC was in 2007. It would also be about the same financial outlay as the MLS expansion fee was then – about $10m USD (i.e. the annual MLSE coffee budget).

Sure, you could argue that we should be focused on starting our own women’s league – and I don’t disagree in theory – but the reality is that is even less likely to happen in the near future. To me, having a NWSL team here would be the impetus that would lead to an eventual Canadian women’s league. Investors would want to see proof of the market before taking the bigger risk.

Regardless, arguing between what model is the best misses the point that NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING RIGHT NOW.

Make no mistake. The single biggest issue in the game in Canada right now is the lack of opportunities for female players. This is a situation that has been coming for a while, but has been ignored or dismissed because Christine Sinclair was distracting us.

Sincy has done her part. She deserves some help now. If you care about Canadian soccer it’s time to stop being patient about this and demand action.

We need a plan. We need a professional women’s structure NOW.

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