April 14, 2024
Canada women’s soccer labor dispute, explained: Why the national team went on strike over budget cuts

The Canada women’s national soccer team is playing in the SheBelieves Cup after almost withdrawing due to an ongoing labor dispute with Canada Soccer. The squad will be playing in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer, but budget cuts are not sitting well with the members of the team while they prepare. 

On Feb. 16, the women’s team decided to wear purple ahead of their first match of the SheBelieves Cup against the United States.

“Purple has historically been associated with efforts to achieve gender equality,” read a statement shared on Twitter by the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association. “Considering the current circumstances, our players will continue to wear purple until our association has standard in place that ensure equal treatment and opportunity.”

Earlier that day, Canadian players showed up to practice wearing unbranded gear and inside-out shirts. It was not a coincidence, but a way to share a message they have been bringing up for a while.

“Where you find the crest is, is over our heart. We are proud and honoured to play for Canada,” midfielder Sophie Schmidt said. “We feel as though our federation has let us down. That’s the reason why we have it (training kit) the other way around. We know Canadians are behind and support us.”

Here is a closer look at the situation, starting from the beginning:

Canadian players express discontent with funding

On Feb. 10, players of the Canadian women’s national team announced on social media they were taking job action over what they felt was a lack of sufficient funding. The players wrote that they were “both outraged and deeply concerned” with the significant cuts to the team’s budget for 2023. 

In their post, the players pointed out that soccer in Canada has never been more successful both on the pitch and at attracting corporate dollars. Canada won its first Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer in 2021, and the men’s team qualified for the World Cup last year for the first time in 36 years. With the recent achievements from both teams, the women’s squad questioned why Canada Soccer hasn’t provided commensurate funding. 

“We have been patiently negotiating with Canada Soccer for more than a year,” the statement read. “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 the same level of support that was received by the Men’s National Team in 2022, and with significant cuts to our program — to simply make do with less.” 

The women’s team said they were feeling “frustrated” and “disrespected” over the “lack of support.” As they prepare to compete with their “new budget reality,” they’ve had to cut training camp days, full camp windows and even cut the number of players and staff invited to camps. 

“We’ve been told, quite literally, that Canada Soccer cannot adequately fund the Women’s National Team, and they have waited to tell us this until now, when we are less than six months from the World Cup,” read the statement.

Canada Soccer shuts down team’s short-lived strike 

The Canadian women’s national team players have said they are committed to do whatever it takes to create public awareness of what is happening, with the goal of getting Canada Soccer to support both national soccer teams properly. They put their words into action as they went on a strike on Feb. 10 that ended just two days later as Canada Soccer allegedly threatened legal action. 

In a statement shared on Feb. 12, the players said they were told that if they didn’t return to work and played against the United States in the SheBelieves Cup, there would be legal consequences that could cost them millions of dollars in damages. 

The players said taking on Canada Soccer is not something they can afford, and threats of costly litigation brought the players back to the field

Canada women’s national team coach Beverly Priestman, who is employed by Canada Soccer, pointed out that the coaching staff is in a difficult spot under the current circumstances. However, she expressed support for her players standing up for what they believe in.

“What I will say is I’m incredibly proud and honored to represent the group of players I have in front of me,” Priestman said on a Feb. 15 conference call with reporters. “I think what comes out loud and clear to me is they are not just fighting for themselves and the next six months. I think what is really strong for this group is to make sure that the next generation of players that come through have the same opportunity to represent themselves and perform at the highest level, just like their counterparts.”

USWNT shows solidarity in SheBelieves Cup

Canada did not sit out its SheBelieves Cup matchup against the U.S., but the players still tried to get their message across. The Canadian team wore “enough is enough” on their purple shirts before the match. The U.S. women’s squad also joined them in the middle of the pitch for a moment of solidarity. 

The USWNT Players Association had also shared a message ahead of the competition, noting they are “already on the other side of this fight” but know what Canada is going through.

Just last year, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams signed collective bargaining agreements that run through 2028 and set a standard for equal pay through “identical economic terms.”

“We stand with all women’s footballers in calling attention to their collective fight, but also call on everyone to join and support the fight to eradicate ALL inequality and discrimination that exists in our sport,” read the USWNT Players Association statement.