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Captain Christine Sinclair slams Canada Soccer at parliamentary hearing

Nation’s soccer icon blasts ‘culture of secrecy and obstruction’
Canada players wear purple shirts with “Enough is Enough” written on them during the Canadian national anthem before the team’s SheBelieves Cup women’s soccer match against the United States, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. Members of the Canadian women’s soccer team take their fight for pay equity to Parliament today. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Phelan M. Ebenhack

Captain Christine Sinclair delivered a scathing indictment of Canada Soccer before a parliamentary committee Thursday, citing a “culture of secrecy and obstruction.”

Sinclair, the world’s all-time international leading goal-scorer among men and women with 190 goals, painted a picture of an obdurate governing body unwilling to share financial information — and favouring its men’s team.

“As the popularity, interest and growth of the women’s game has swept the globe, our most painstaking battle has been with our own federation and trying to obtain fair and equitable treatment in the way we are supported and the way we are paid,” Sinclair said.

One day after billionaire Loblaws boss Galen Weston and other grocery chain CEOs denied profit-mongering in testimony before the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, it was soccer’s turn to take centre stage on Parliament Hill.

Sinclair and teammates Janine Beckie, Sophie Schmidt and Quinn, who goes by one name, told the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage that the Canadian women’s team has essentially been treated as an afterthought compared to the men’s side.

The four, who are the women’s team player representatives, have made a combined 732 appearances for Canada at the senior level.

Their appearance came just hours after a pre-emptive strike from Canada Soccer, which released part of its proposed collecting bargaining agreement with the men’s and women’s teams.

“We feel quite disrespected by the way they went about their business this afternoon,” said Beckie, noting some of the information in the statement was new to the players.

“Unlike the CSA (Canadian Soccer Association) we are not going to go into details about our bargaining here,” added Sinclair.

Canada Soccer says its proposed labour deal would pay both teams the same match fee, with the squads sharing equally in competition prize money. And it says the Olympic champion women would become the second-highest-paid women’s national squad among FIFA’s 211 member associations, presumably behind the top-ranked United States.

“It is time to get a deal done,” Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said in the statement. “We’ve been negotiating in good faith and want to get to a resolution with our national teams. In order to get there, we need both of our national teams to agree.

“Our women deserve to be paid equally and they deserve the financial certainty going into the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup (this summer in Australia and New Zealand).”

But Canada Soccer acknowledged that equal pay does not mean equal dollars when it comes to team budgets, saying the competitive calendar and FIFA World Cup qualification pathway for the men comes with “very different costs” than that of the women.

The players complained they have been forced to negotiate in the dark because of Canada Soccer’s refusal to open its books.

“Canada Soccer’s approach has reflected a culture of secrecy and obstruction,” said Sinclair. “As players we were constantly told that our compensation — or lack of — was all that Canada Soccer could afford.”

She said the players were shocked to find out in 2021 — the year they won Olympic gold in Tokyo — that the Canadian men were earning more than five times than the women.

“On a personal note I’ve never been more insulted than I was by Canada Soccer’s own president, Nick Bontis last year as we met with him to discuss our concerns,” said Sinclair. “I was tasked with outlining our compensation ask on behalf of the women’s national team. The president of Canada Soccer listened to what I had to say and then later in the meeting referred back to it as ‘What was it Christine was bitching about?’

“To me this spoke volumes about the lack of respect Canada Soccer has for its women’s national team. As a a team we do not trust Canada Soccer to be open and honest as we continue to negotiate not only fair and equitable compensation and treatment but for the future of our program.”

While Bontis has since stepped down, Quinn said the players have no confidence in their governing body’s new leadership with former Olympian Charmaine Crooks elevated to acting president from vice-president.

Thursday’s hearing was hardly smooth.

Some of the politicians were clearly new to the world of soccer and the players did not always have the answers to questions.

But Beckie perhaps summed things up by saying the players were sitting where they were Thursday because of “a blatant disregard for the women’s program in the past from Canada Soccer executives”

“I’m sorry you’ve got to be here,” said Conservative MP Kevin Waugh. “This should not happen in this country.”

The Heritage Committee has already taken Hockey Canada to task as part of it Safe Sport in Canada research.

Canada Soccer officials are due to appear before the committee on March 20.

Thursday’s hybrid hearing got off to a rocky start with chair Hedy Fry, a Liberal MP, referring to Beckie as Beckle. And proceedings were slightly delayed to sort out some virtual audio issues.

But Fry was eloquent in closing the meeting.

“Thank you for your team spirit, your courage, your ability to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes. Because a lot of people are very afraid to do that because it could impact their career.”

The players raised fears for the future, saying Canada’s youth teams are not getting the support and opportunities needed to make the transition to the senior side.

The senior side is also feeling the pinch, with the players noting that staff sometimes have to jump into scrimmages to make up the numbers because there are not enough bodies in camp.

“Canada Soccer’s long-standing narrative has been that we should be grateful for what we receive … We are asked to simply make do with less,” said Quinn.

The sixth-ranked women’s team, which formed the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association in 2016, has been without a labour deal since the last one expired at the end of 2021. They have struck an agreement in principle with Canada Soccer on compensation for 2022 but say other issues have yet to be resolved.

The 53rd-ranked men, who organized last summer as the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association, are working on their first formal labour agreement.

Both teams have resorted to job action over their dissatisfaction at the labour impasse.

The men boycotted a planned friendly against Panama last June in Vancouver. And the women’s team briefly downed tools before last month’s SheBelieves Cup before being forced back onto the pitch by threats of legal action from Canada Soccer.

“You step onto the field, you’re representing Canada and we’re all so proud to be Canadian and wear that Maple Leaf but those were hard games. That was a hard camp,” said Sinclair, who said at one point she asked coach Bev Priestman to substitute her just after one minute “to prove a point.”

Under the proposed Canada Soccer deal, players will receive a $3,500 appearance fee per game plus win bonuses up to $5,500 per player depending on the rank of the opponent. Each team would receive $1.15 million for World Cup qualification.

As to the US$9 million in FIFA prize money that the men’s team earned in Qatar, Canada Soccer proposes that 40 percent (approximately US$3.6 million) go into a combined prize pool along with as much as 75 percent of the Women’s World Cup prize money earned (estimated to be between US$1 million and US$4 million, depending on how far the team goes in the tournament).

The two teams reportedly asked to equally share 80 per cent stake of Qatar prize money.

But Sinclair, who was 16 when she made her senior debut for Canada in March 2000, noted that pay equity is just “a little piece of the puzzle.”

“It’s about equal treatment. It’s about equal opportunities, equal resources. And honestly until that happens, we’re going to be at a stalemate.”

Canada Soccer also said Thursday for the first time that Canadian Soccer Business, which markets Canada’s soccer product via broadcast and sponsorship agreements, is willing to amend its controversial agreement with the governing body.

CSB pays the governing body a set amount each year with the rest helping fund the men’s Canadian Premier League. Canada Soccer, which does not hold an ownership stake in CSB, is reportedly receiving $3 million to $4 million a year currently under the deal as “the beneficiary of a rights fee guarantee.”

CSB CEO Mark Noonan, who doubles as the CPL commissioner, has not confirmed the financial arrangements, but has said the annual guarantee is “three times what Canada Soccer was making commercially back in 2018 when nobody was willing to take a risk.”

—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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