‘Everything is at stake’: Canadian football’s fight for equal pay | Canada women’s national soccer team

kAylyn Kyle is an Olympic bronze medalist turned broadcaster with deep personal experience playing for Canada. Speaking exclusively to Moving the Goalposts this week, Kyle says that when it comes to the labor dispute between Canada Soccer and the women’s national team: “Everything is on the line.”

Where are the funds? This is the resounding question that defines the current consequences. It was explicitly asked by the Canadian Football Players Association (CSPA) in its original strike announcement. It was underlined by Kyle when speaking with the Guardian.

According to Kyle, both men and women have been asking this question for quite some time. “When people ask for transparency, there seems to be none,” she says. “And this isn’t just with the women’s team, it’s not just a women’s team fight. It is also with the men’s team. I spoke to a number of people inside and outside the men’s team who never got clarity. They don’t have that communication. They don’t know what’s going on because there is no transparency. And I think the most important thing about talking to both sides is that they all want transparency. Everyone wants honest and open conversations. And there were none.

Kaylyn Kyle. Photography: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile/Getty Images

Despite historic success on the pitch, Canada Soccer has announced severe budget cuts for 2023. These cuts undermine critical support for women in a World Cup year. Seen as the last straw, the CSPA announced a strike ahead of the SheBelieves Cup on February 10th. Canada Soccer threatened legal action if the women continued, which nearly forced them to play.

The situation is changing, but the key question is consistent: where are the funds?

Canada Soccer’s agreement with Canada Soccer Business has come under close scrutiny as observers seek answers. And while Canada Soccer Business claims his role is misunderstood, former players like Kyle have their doubts. More than anything, Kyle says some feel a trade deal was made between two parties – Canada Soccer and Canada Soccer Business – without transparency or clarity about what it specifically entails and whether unnecessary funds are being siphoned from the national team because of it. . .

unable to play The global women’s game is no stranger to action at work. Others took a stand against football federations deemed insufficient in their support (or specific administrative staff) for women’s football. This action usually includes strength protests from a federation’s stars who are absent from the field for an extended period.

Fans hold signs in support of the Canadian women's national team.
Fans hold signs in support of the Canadian women’s national team. Photography: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Norway’s Ada Hegerberg is among the most famous examples, as the inaugural Féminin Ballon d’Or winner sat out the 2019 World Cup as a protest against gender inequality. A significant portion of Spain’s standout talent remains at odds with their national team, holding a particular ire for entrenched manager Jorge Vilda. Last week, the French Football Federation came under scrutiny when Wendie Renard, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani announced that they would not participate in the upcoming World Cup under current conditions.

Kyle says that if things don’t change for Canada, she could see several retirements happening after this year’s World Cup. She says some tried to walk away before that.

“Sophie Schmidt is a prime example,” she says. ”She announced her retirement after everything broke down. And then it was Christine Sinclair who told her, ‘Hey, hang with it. We need you to play in the Women’s World Cup this summer. So she decided, and I really wouldn’t be shocked if there were a lot of retirements after the World Cup. And, yes, you can talk about aging players, but I think a lot of them, with the success they’ve had in the last three major tournaments, in the Olympics, would probably want to stay as long as they can, until their legs give out. But, unfortunately, when you play for an association that is not willing to support you… It makes it easier to want to retire from the national team, which is super sad and super disappointing.”

When the CSPA announced the labor action on Feb. 10, the players were forced back onto the field under threat of legal action. With a forced hand, they played. But they found themselves unable to play to their usual standard.

Norwegian Ada Hegerberg sat out the 2019 World Cup to highlight gender inequality in football.
Norwegian Ada Hegerberg sat out the 2019 World Cup to highlight gender inequality in football. Photography: Daniela Porcelli/SPP/Shutterstock

“You saw the opening game against the US Women’s National Team and at the SheBelieves Cup,” explains Kyle. “We were mentally tired. We looked exhausted. It literally felt like we had nothing on our legs because of everything they were going through.”

Canada is among FIFA’s highest ranked women’s soccer nations. But for invested observers like Kyle, it can be hard to imagine success at this year’s World Cup, when so much energy can be diverted off the pitch.

‘A slap in the face’ When asked if Canada Soccer treats men and women equally, Kyle replies: “The numbers don’t lie. That’s the bottom line. I think the players the numbers fell two weeks ago before going to the SheBelieves Cup and these numbers are scary. I didn’t think it was that bad, to be completely honest.

The disparity in spending can be explained in part by the costs of qualifying for the World Cup, which for men required far more disparate travel and associated costs, although full details remain unclear. For further evidence of unequal treatment, Kyle believes we look no further than confirming a spring match at BMO Field in Toronto this spring for the men’s team.

“It was just announced that the Canadian men’s team is playing at home and I believe at BMO Field,” she says. The women don’t have any home games ahead of the Women’s World Cup. To me, it’s just disrespectful, and to announce this now, given everything that’s going on… In fact, it’s almost a slap in the face: ‘We don’t really care about the women’s team.’”

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Kyle shares another anecdote involving the recently resigned former president of Canada Soccer, Nick Bontis. When she returned from Qatar, where she was covering the men’s World Cup, he texted her asking how they could “make 2026 great”. Says Kyle: “I wanted to answer: how can we make 2023 great? You realize you’re texting a player, a former player. It is simply disrespectful.”

Nick Bontis, right, during a press conference in Vancouver last June.
Nick Bontis, right, during a press conference in Vancouver last June. Photography: Darryl Dyck/AP

Kyle also sees Bontis’ latest appointment as a particular point of frustration: “Furthermore, Concacaf has announced that Nick Bontis is now Deputy Chairman of the Board of Concacaf North America, which again is another slap in the face. . How do you promote someone like that to a position like that? After all he has done for Canada Soccer and the incompetence he has brought.”

What happens next? On Monday night, Bontis resigned from Canada Soccer, facing internal pressure. For now, his post within Concacaf remains intact. In his resignation, Bontis hinted that a historic CBA was approaching: “Canada Soccer and our two national team programs have the real potential to sign a historic collective bargaining agreement. Once signed, it will be a historic agreement that will set our nation apart from virtually every other FIFA member association.”

But elsewhere, there are signs of renewed strike action. Rick Westhead reported on Tuesday that the players would be within a legal attacking position “Within days”.

Players from Canada during the recent SheBelieves Cup in Nashville.
Players from Canada during the recent SheBelieves Cup in Nashville. Photography: Georgia Soares/SPP/Shutterstock

The success of any action taken by the women (and men) playing for Canada remains uncertain. But as Kyle points out, it’s been a long time. What’s different this time is both teams’ success on the pitch and the attention (and pressure) that success generates. The situation remains in flux, with updates expected any day now.

Mary Earps was named goalkeeper of the year at the awards, delivering an emotional speech dedicated to “anyone who’s ever been in a dark place”.

Absolutely love how you can see all the faces in the room just completely captured by Mary Earps. This is so powerfully delivered, and the award so totally deserved. Congrats Mary 😍 pic.twitter.com/ikglxvvwzc

— Ben Haines (@benhainess) February 28, 2023


Absolutely love how you can see every face in the room completely captured by Mary Earps. This is delivered so powerfully and the award is fully deserved. Congratulations Maria 😍 pic.twitter.com/ikglxvvwzc

—Ben Haines (@benhainess) February 28, 2023

Have a question for our writers – or want to suggest a topic to cover? Contact us by emailing Moving.goalposts@theguardian.com or by posting BTL.

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