It has been a whirlwind few days for the Canada Women’s National Soccer Team. The team, abbreviated as either CANWNT or CANXNT, attempted to strike as a means of forcing their federation to improve their working conditions. Before discussing the strike in more detail, it is important to understand why the team decided to strike in the first place.
On February 10, 2023, the team collectively posted a statement through its Players Association, writing that the federation has imposed restrictive budget cuts on the women’s and youth national teams, but not the men’s team. This has led to the CANWNT having to cut vital resources in a World Cup year. According to the players, staff and players have been reduced, and not only days have been taken off of training camps, but entire camps have been canceled.
These cuts, while perhaps seeming insignificant on paper, can do damage in practice. For example, ahead of the 2023 SheBelieves Cup, the team was forced to make do with only 20 players instead of a traditional 24-28. This is not even enough players to do an inter-team scrimmage of 11 vs. 11. In contrast, the men’s team was never forced to make roster cuts in 2022, their World Cup year, because of budgetary issues.
After the initial statement was posted, many members of the CANWNT posted Canada Soccer’s 2021 end-of-year financial statement for greater context into their grievances.
It is clearly demonstrated that in this document, the most up-to-date financial record Canada Soccer has released, that despite their promise for equal pay, Canada Soccer does not spend equitably. In 2021, Canada Soccer spent two times as much money on the men’s team as they did for the women’s.
The Strike and Aftermath
Later that day, team captain and Canada legend Christine Sinclair told TSN, “It’s gotten to a point where, at least for me personally, until this is resolved I can’t represent this federation.” She and fellow Players Association representative Janine Beckie confirmed that the team was going on strike. In an Instagram post, midfielder Jessie Fleming explained, “[w]e are not asking for money that does not exist in our organization. We are asking for (1) the same opportunity to perform and (2) the necessary changes within the organization to ensure financial sustainability moving forward, ultimately supporting both the senior national teams and youth development.”
The CANWNT did not train on February 11. That afternoon TSN reported that Canada Soccer threatened to sue the team for damages if they didn’t play in the upcoming SheBelieves Cup. Canadian labor law dictates that a request to strike must be approved before a strike can occur. The Athletic reported that a request was filed on February 6, but it has not been approved yet.
That night, the Canadian Players Association released an update: Canada Soccer was in fact ready to sue the PA and every player striking. They write: “As individual players who have received no compensation yet for any of our work for Canada Soccer in 2022, we cannot afford the risks that personal action against us from Canada Soccer will create. Because of this, we have advised Canada Soccer that we will return to training tomorrow and will play in the SheBelieves Cup as scheduled.”
Yes, Canada Soccer did not pay any player of the Canadian Women’s National Team any money for their work in 17 matches (plus training camps) in 2022.
This excerpt from Canada Soccer’s official statement on the strike confirms their reasoning for threatening legal action:
“Canada Soccer has also seen the comments from the CSPA about ‘forcing’ the players back to work. Canada Soccer respects the players’ right to organise. The players, while having taken job action, were not and are not in a legal strike position under Ontario labour law. Canada Soccer was not prepared to jeopardize the SheBelieves Cup tournament, the preparation it would afford the Women’s National Team for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, nor the experience it would afford countless fans who had undoubtedly traveled to Orlando to see their National Team heroes. Canada Soccer therefore took the necessary steps to ensure that such games will be played as scheduled.”
So What Happens Now?
Canada’s first game in the SheBelieves Cup is against old rivals the United States on February 16. It is worth noting that despite being bitter rivals on the field, many United States women’s national team players posted messages of solidarity and support on social media.
According to TSN, Canadian Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge is now involved in settling the labor dispute. As of writing St-Onge has not released a statement or taken any direct action yet.
CANWNT Captain Christine Sinclair tweeted after the last PA update, “This is not over. We will continue to fight for everything we deserve and we will win. The She Believes (Cup) is being played in protest.”
It remains to be seen what action, if any, the CANWNT players take on the field. The SheBelieves Cup was the tournament in which the USWNT refused to acknowledge their federation in their fight for equal pay. It appears that three years later history will repeat itself.