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Christine Sinclair, captain of Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team, says the support of companies like CIBC are vital to the sport and will help it grow across the country.SUPPLIED

Christine Sinclair first stepped onto a soccer pitch before she had stepped into a kindergarten classroom.

“My first soccer team was called the Burnaby Bees,” Sinclair says. “I was four at the time, but the team was meant for six-year-olds. They didn’t have a girls’ team for my age. I’ve been told the whole experience was so overwhelming for me that I cried on the sidelines a lot, but it must have not been so bad ‘cause I’m still playing now!” Sinclair grew up at a time when women’s soccer – and women’s sport in general – wasn’t highly publicized. “Because of that, I didn’t think pursuing a career in women’s sport was really an option,” she recalls. However, after attending 1999 World Cup matches as a teenager and seeing U.S. soccer stars including Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers in action, Sinclair was motivated to stay on the pitch.

Now, as the captain of Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Team, Sinclair has earned an Olympic gold medal and two Olympic bronze medals. While those accolades are priceless, what’s equally important to Sinclair is her role as an advocate for women’s soccer in Canada. “I want to leave the game in a better place than I found it and make sure the next generation continues to fight for what they want to achieve,” she explains.

Sinclair recognizes the impact that strong sponsors can have by backing women’s soccer. “It means a lot to us players that big brands like CIBC appreciate the heights we’ve achieved and believe in the greater future we are trying to create with women’s soccer in the country,” she says. “We’ve seen it time and time again, when the investment is made in women’s sport, the support is there from people filling the stands or those watching on TV.”

Stephen Forbes, Executive Vice-President, Purpose, Brand and Corporate Affairs with CIBC, says that consistent, long-term investment helps support the growth of women’s soccer – and the game – overall. “Soccer is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country and our ambition is to make it inclusive, diverse, accessible and equitable for all,” Forbes explains. “CIBC is committed to supporting equity in soccer and we are excited to support the next generation of soccer stars and strong women leading this effort.”

CIBC is also supporting an equitable soccer landscape in Canada as one of the founding partners of Project 8. Helmed by former Women’s National Team member Diana Matheson, Project 8 is an initiative to build a women’s professional soccer league in Canada. “The potential in our country is enormous,” Matheson explains. “We have the third largest player pool in the world and a fan base that’s been cheering us on for over a decade.”

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Christine Sinclair sees her role as an advocate for soccer. ‘I want to leave the game in a better place than I found it and make sure the next generation continues to fight for what they want to achieve.SUPPLIED

Research from Canadian Women & Sport that says one in three girls leave sport by late adolescence, while the dropout rate for boys is only one in 10. Matheson hopes that the launch of Project 8 will help girls and young women stay in sports, like soccer, and see a future for themselves within it. “There’s a lack of visible role models that young women can relate to, and a lack of pathways that are specific to them,” says Matheson.

By launching and fostering the growth of a women’s professional soccer league in Canada, Project 8 is also creating opportunities for women to participate in the ecosystem around the sport, like coaches, referees, business leaders, athletic therapists and media professionals. “With CIBC’s support, we’re creating role models, high-performance pathways and opportunities for more women in sport to reach their ambition,” she says.

Matheson says that Canada’s shorter history in soccer means that it doesn’t have legacy men’s leagues or soccer federations with high revenues to grow women’s professional leagues. That makes sponsorships even more important. She’s currently focused on two revenue streams to help build Project 8 – team owners that buy in to creating team franchises, and sponsorship from corporations like CIBC. Both are integral to the creation and success of a women’s professional soccer league in Canada, and she’s especially grateful for the leap of faith that companies like CIBC have taken with Project 8.

“There are no metrics for viewership or attendance in Canada that you can assign a dollar value to,” Matheson says. “This is companies coming in, willing to give their dollars because they believe in it. It’s those dollars that are the catalyst and the spark making this possible.”

“At the end of the day, it’s people within these companies, like CIBC, that know this is a product that’s worth investing in,” she adds.

Project 8 currently has three founding teams on board – the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Calgary Foothills and AFC Toronto City. Matheson hopes to have a total of eight teams signed on for its 2025 launch, with a long-term vision of 12 teams in the league. “Ten years from now, I think we’ll have a thriving domestic league, we’ll compete in and win Champions League titles in North America, and we’ll have won a World Cup,” she says.

Matheson also envisions how the league’s professional success can trickle down into the greater community. “The next generation of fan is going to grow up with these teams down the street or in their local market,” she says. “They’re going to grow up with a totally different reality. Hopefully, the longer-term impact speaks to decreasing that higher rate of girls dropping out of sport, and we can get closer to an equal landscape between girls and boys and girls continuing their journey through sport for longer.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with CIBC. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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