Christine Sinclair traded in her jersey, shorts and cleats temporarily for a cap and gown on Friday.
The captain of Canada’s women’s soccer team put on the bright red robe and blue cap as she was bestowed with an honorary doctorate of laws degree from Simon Fraser University in her hometown of Burnaby, B.C.
“This was a huge honour,” said Sinclair, dressed in her regalia in an interview before proceeding to SFU’s fall convocation ceremony with graduates on the Burnaby Mountain campus. “The last time I did this, I was graduating from the University of Portland. Obviously, things have changed.”
Since graduating from her alma mater in 2005 with a life sciences degree, Sinclair has competed in two Olympics, guiding Canada to its first medal in soccer, a bronze in the 2012 London Games. Her many honours include Canadian Press athlete of the year and female athlete of the year awards in 2012, a Canadian Walk of Fame induction this year and inclusion among the 25 most influential people in Canadian sport.
The honorary degree has special meaning for Sinclair because many of her family members and relatives have graduated from SFU. She also considered studying there but was clear in her decision to go to university in the U.S. “for soccer reasons.”
Sinclair’s parents, brother, sister-in-law, grandmother and some aunts, uncles and cousins were among the supporters on hand for the occasion. As she was putting on the robes with SFU registrar Kate Ross, who also brought along a Canadian jersey for her to sign, Sinclair was concerned that her friends and family would be posting pictures of her in the new garb on social media.
But she also took pride, mockingly, in “the fact that my family are going to call me Doc from now on.”
“No, it’s a huge honour, and I’m excited to be able to share it with my family. That’s definitely a highlight,” she said. “I think we’ve taken over this place.”
Teammates, however, were not on her guest list.
“This is a family affair. I don’t know if I want my teammates to see me dressed like this - but I’m sure they’ll get their hands on pictures,” she said with a chuckle.
Teammates will soon get to see her in usual soccer attire as the Canadian squad gets together for a residency camp in Vancouver prior to international friendlies against South Korea in Edmonton on October 30 and Mexico in Vancouver on Nov. 24.
Sinclair will resume training after she and her teammates received a month off upon conclusion of the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season. She guided the Portland Thorns to the fledgling league’s first-ever title as they beat the host Western New York Flash, led by U.S. star Abby Wambach, in Rochester, N.Y.
Sinclair is looking forward to a reunion with Canadian coach John Herdman who was signed to an extension through the 2020 Olympics after expressing some interest in the England job, vacated by the firing of former coach Hope Powell, if a formal offer were to come came his way.
“I think it’s one of the best moves that the (Canadian Soccer Association) has ever made,” said Sinclair. “John completely changed our program — changed us as a team. Obviously, we were a little concerned when the England job opened up, him being from there. But it’s great to see that he’s signed on long-term. It’s the best thing for the program.”
Herdman informed players of his plans as he weighed his future with the program that he took over from Caroline Morace in 2011 versus returning to his homeland.
“He’s not sneaking around by any means,” said Sinclair. “But communication goes both ways with him and a lot of the leaders on the team, so he kept us up to date with how things were going, what his thought process was, and we were pretty confident that he was going to stay.”
Herdman will use the upcoming friendlies to grade talent as part of a youth movement that he launched after Canada beat France for the Olympic bronze medal. The games will serve as preparation for the 2015 Women’s World Cup which Canada is hosting in six cities across the country.
Sinclair said Herdman understands that youth “is the future of this team.”
“We’re still building,” she said. “We’ve got a year and a half before the World Cup, and these two games will be used as prep for the World Cup, because not often do you get to play big games at home.”
It will also help to play on Commonwealth Stadium and B.C. Place Stadium pitches that will be used for the 24-country tournament to which Canada has received a bye as host team while other nations are currently going through qualifying.
“I think it’s only the start,” she said of the two friendlies. “I think more countries are going to want to come and play in Canada (and) test out the facilities. That’s one of the perks of being able to host. A lot of us have played in Edmonton. We’ve played at B.C. Place before, but this is only going to help as the momentum builds.”
The game against Mexico will be the first meeting between the teams since the Canadians secured a 2012 Olympic berth on the same Vancouver pitch in January of last year. Sinclair said the contest with the Mexicans will serve as a test match, but not just because of what happened in Olympic qualifying.
“Every time we play Mexico, it’s a feisty game,” she said. “We all remember the game where they knocked us out of the (2004) Olympics and we didn’t even get to qualify for the Greece Olympics (in Athens.) It still hurts, because we had knocked them out of other competitions. That’s another reason (the game will be feisty), because we always face each other with qualification to either World Cup or Olympics on the line.”
But pain would be something to feel another, while Sinclair enjoyed the occasion, glad that she did not have to take any exams to get the new degree.
“It’s funny,” she said. “One of my cousins is going to medical school and getting a doctorate there.”