Three members of the House committee whose inquiry into Hockey Canada led to the resignations of the organization’s chief executive and board of directors are now interested in hearing testimony from Canada Soccer, the national governing body responsible for the sport in Canada, as a dispute over pay equity with the women’s national soccer team comes to a head.
The three MPs – a Liberal, a Conservative and a New Democrat – all sit on the House committee on Canadian heritage. They told The Globe and Mail Tuesday that Canada Soccer’s culture and financial practices should be scrutinized, and that they want the committee to look into the organization. They said they hoped this would happen in March, ahead of further committee inquiry into safe sport in Canada.
The committee spent much of the latter half of 2022 examining Hockey Canada, over an allegation that a group of players had sexually assaulted a young woman in 2018. Committee members grilled Hockey Canada’s chief executive and its other leaders about their handling of the alleged incident.
Members of the women’s national soccer team briefly went on strike last week, saying they had not received the same level of institutional support as the men’s national team. But they say they were forced back to work by threat of legal action from Canada Soccer.
They also cited recent cuts to their team’s funding ahead of this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The team has said in previous statements that it is seeking pay for its members that equals what the men receive.
During a media conference call Tuesday, four members of the women’s team said that while they have ended their strike and will play this week at a tournament, they are committed to seeing this fight through.
The men’s national team is supporting the women’s team’s demands. Last week, both teams said in statements that, if players’ concerns were not resolved, Canada Soccer’s leadership should be replaced. The men’s team also said Minister of Sport Pascale St-Onge should “intervene to remove them.”
The men’s team said its funding had also been substantially cut. It added that it has been asking Canada Soccer since last year for access to the organization’s financial records. But those requests have been refused or ignored, the men noted.
Both the women’s and men’s teams are demanding increased transparency from Canada Soccer, including details of its relationship with Canadian Soccer Business, a separate entity that brokers Canada Soccer broadcast deals and corporate partnerships.
Canada’s top soccer players are seeking better treatment and compensation at a time of heightened excitement about the sport. The women’s team won Olympic gold in 2021, and the men’s team made its first World Cup appearance in 36 years this past fall in Qatar.
Asked whether she will get involved, Ms. St-Onge told reporters Tuesday that she is going to speak with the women’s team soon to see how the government can help.
Canada Soccer did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. The organization is in negotiations with both teams, and has previously said that pay equity will be an important part of any deal.
One of the committee members who told The Globe that Canada Soccer should be called to testify was NDP MP Peter Julian.
He said that he would be keen to ask the organization, given the women’s team’s success, “how they would possibly justify putting them in a very clear, subordinate position in terms of funding and support.”
Another committee member, Conservative MP Kevin Waugh, said he wants to hear from Soccer Canada in early March, before the committee delves into further study of safe sport issues, which have centred around problems of harassment and abuse.
In late 2022, the heritage committee expanded its examination beyond Hockey Canada. It began collecting materials on several national sport organizations, calling for board meeting minutes from bobsleigh and skeleton, gymnastics, rugby, figure skating, swimming and soccer.
Mr. Waugh said that those minutes have been translated and were recently distributed to him and other members.
“Seeing that the athletes are raising some flags, I think it’s up to us in Parliament to ask the questions to the appropriate people,” he said.
“We want equity for our men’s and women’s team,” he added. “Gone are the days that the men get all the funding and the women get the scraps.”
Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, also a committee member, said that he would like to hear from both Soccer Canada and members of the women’s team.
Mr. Housefather said the reason the committee was able to do an effective job of “changing the tenor” with Hockey Canada was that it had the power to compel the organization’s leadership to appear at hearings and produce documents.
“There are allegations of a lack of transparency in Canada Soccer, and the committee can see whether that’s true,” he said.
During the women’s team’s media conference call, in which players spoke from a training camp in Orlando ahead of the SheBelieves Cup, they told reporters they may not participate in their next team training window in April if the dispute isn’t resolved.
The players said that, as they prepare for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, they want Soccer Canada to provide them with the same support the men received in the lead-up to their World Cup. Equal pay is just one part. They want the same number of team training opportunities, players invited to camps and staff members dedicated to their team.
“It’s a fight that women all over the world have to partake in every single day, and quite frankly, we’re really sick of it,” said Janine Beckie, a 28-year-old forward. “I just get angry about it because it’s time, it’s 2023.”
She noted that the team had won at the Olympics. “And we’re about to go to the World Cup with a team who could win,” she said.
The players said they had been advised not to speak about their negotiations with Canada Soccer, the governing body’s agreement with Canadian Soccer Business, or any possible government involvement in the dispute.
“Our player reps are exhausted and deflated,” said team captain Christine Sinclair. “This could be our most important fight that we ever have as national players and it’s one we’re determined to win.”
The women also said that they were devastated that Canada Soccer had threatened them with legal action when they walked off the job on the weekend.
“It was obviously very disheartening,” Ms. Beckie said. “To be sued would put all of us in a very difficult position. So I think we were frustrated that it escalated to that.”
With a report from The Canadian Press