This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail, and our contributor community. This week’s newsletter was written by Sheema Khan, author of Of Hockey and Hijab.
There should be a whole lotta buzz right now about the Canadian national women’s soccer team. We are less than six months away from the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. And the women’s team, which ranked sixth globally and won Olympic gold in 2020 in Tokyo, is seeking to improve upon its fifth-place World Cup showing in 2019 in France.
There’s so much to be excited for, yet Canada Soccer has chosen to take the buzzkill route, announcing two weeks ago that it would offer less compensation to our women’s team than what it offered to the men’s team leading up to the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup. The situation is so dire that these women, who basically have soccer in their blood, are ready to walk away from the sport entirely in the name of basic fairness. When the business of the game mars the love of the game, we all lose.
Soccer is called “the beautiful game” for a reason. As a child, transplanted to Montreal from India, I embraced hockey as my first love, given the hockey-mad atmosphere of Montreal in the 1970s. But in high school, I started playing organized soccer as a left-wing forward, since I was naturally left-footed. There was nothing so exhilarating as receiving a pass, dipsy-doodling past a defender, and then honing in for a strike into the upper corner of the net. I eventually also played a few games with the McGill University women’s varsity team as a walk-on. I loved “dancing” with the ball, the team camaraderie, the thrill of scoring. I was lucky to avoid major injuries, although I was once hit point-blank in the face by a hard shot, shattering my glasses. (Hello, contact lenses!)
During my early soccer years, my Montreal neighborhood, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, was building up a girls’ soccer program. They were looking for volunteer coaches and I jumped at the opportunity, even though I had no coaching experience. Soon I was coaching groups of nine-, 10- and 11-year-old girls, all wide-eyed and eager, with super-supportive parents. I loved it so much that I became an accredited soccer coach with the Canadian Soccer Association while I was in university. I felt passionate about the game, and that’s what I wanted to share with these young players. It wasn’t just about tactics, or scoring, or playmaking. I reminded them that we were out there to have fun, work hard and play fair. That initial season as a coach was tough though, with only one or two wins.
The following year, as the girls’ playmaking and confidence improved, I set some basic rules: work hard, treat each other with respect and out of courtesy for your teammates, let me know when you can’t make it for practice. We had one player who was a notch above the rest, and she knew it. She would sometimes miss practice without advance notice.
As we approached the playoffs, I reminded the girls how important it was to honour our team principles. The “star” player failed to show up for our last practice, before the most important game of the season. When she appeared on game day, I benched her. Yes, we needed her. But I had made a promise to the players: You put in the time and you will be rewarded. She fumed on the bench in the first half; I played her in the second. We lost the game by one goal. Her enraged father swore at me, threatening to sue the club. I stood firm – and the club and the other parents had my back. I wanted the players to know that personal accountability was far more important than winning at all costs.
It’s been discouraging to see the equal-pay disputes in North American women’s soccer in recent years. The United States women’s national team has won four World Cups and four Oympic gold medals, and still had to sue U.S. Soccer to receive fair compensation. Our team is now experiencing a similar, heart-wrenching moment. All of these players have put in the time and dedication and should be rewarded. Otherwise, what message are these sporting organizations sending to young girls?
My own daughter got hooked on soccer while watching Canada’s memorable 2012 Olympic game versus the U.S. It was one of Christine Sinclair’s finest moments. When my daughter made it onto a competitive team, she chose Sinclair’s number 12, which she wore all throughout her soccer career. She was also thrilled to meet Sinclair, Diana Matheson and Melissa Tancredi at various times when we travelled to Hamilton, Montreal, Toronto and our native Ottawa to watch and support our women’s team.
I imagine there are thousands of girls and women across this land who feel the same admiration for these athletes and their sport. Let’s not tarnish their love of the game by shortchanging our national women’s team.
What else we’re thinking about:
The federal government recently announced a new initiative to help businesses commercialize their research and protect their intellectual property. This is an excellent opportunity to develop a program whereby STEM graduates can transition into IP, without attending law school. Too many non-lawyers stumble into this highly-rewarding profession without a clear program of study. Since Canada will need more IP professionals in the future, in my view the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada should work with industry and law firms to develop a one-year course wherein STEM graduates benefit from their educations while mastering IP law to become qualified IP professionals. I was fortunate to have such training at a law firm some 20 years ago and have never looked back. Let’s open this rewarding career path to more Canadians.
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