Last week, the Canadian women said, they were dead-set on skipping the SheBelieves Cup, an important warm-up event for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, which Canada — the reigning Olympic gold medalist in women’s soccer — will enter as a favorite.
When they arrived for the tournament, in which they will play the United States (Thursday), Brazil (Sunday) and Japan (Wednesday), the players said some of those inequities they have become used to were glaring. There were fewer staff members than usual, they said. Fewer players in the camp, and fewer days in the ones to come. So the team refused to take the field.
The strike, however, lasted only one day. A meeting with Canada Soccer went poorly; the federation, the team said, threatened to sue the players’ union and individual players for an illegal work stoppage. Saying they could not bear that risk, the players grudgingly returned to work and committed to taking part in the tournament. They are doing so under protest, players said, and they vowed to continue to find ways to amplify the issue with the public.
Beckie and Christine Sinclair, the longtime team captain, said they could no longer represent the federation until the federation resolved its disputes with the team. Infuriated after Friday’s meeting with the federation, midfielder Sophie Schmidt said she resolved to retire on the spot, and asked the team’s coach, Bev Priestman, to arrange her flight home. Schmidt decided to stick around until the World Cup only after Sinclair talked her out of leaving.
On Thursday night, Canada’s team will take the field knowing it has an ally in its opponent, the U.S. women’s team, and a blueprint in that team’s successful equal pay fight. The Americans spent years fighting their federation for equal treatment and equal pay, nearly a decade in which they managed court fights and legal filings while winning two World Cup titles. Though the U.S. team eventually lost its equal pay case in federal court, it emerged last year with a landmark agreement that might be the most player-friendly contract in women’s sports.