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Canada’s Sophie Schmidt breaks away from New Zealand’s Ria Percival during the first half Celebration Tour soccer action in Montreal on Oct. 26, 2021.The Canadian Press

A dispute about fairness and pay equity recently became public after members of the Canadian national women’s soccer team declared that Canada Soccer, the sport’s governing body in this country, had failed to support them in the same way it does the men’s program.

The women’s soccer team briefly went on strike over the weekend over funding issues they contend threaten their preparation for the World Cup this summer, before Canada Soccer’s threats of legal action forced them back onto the pitch. But the women insist their labour dispute is not over.

How did we get here?

On Friday, Canada’s women’s team, already in Orlando preparing for the upcoming She Believes Cup, announced they would stop attending all Canada Soccer activities until their dispute over equal support and budgets cuts was settled. But their holdout didn’t last long. On Saturday, the players reversed course and returned to training under protest, after Canada Soccer called their strike unlawful under Ontario labour law and threatened to take legal action. That could include collecting millions in damages from their players’ association or individual players in camp.

What does the Canadian women’s soccer team want?

The women want Canada Soccer to provide them the same resources in preparation for 2023 Women’s World Cup this summer in Australia and New Zealand that Canada’s men’s team received before its World Cup last fall in Qatar. That doesn’t just mean equal pay. They want equality in things like the number of players invited to camps, the number of training opportunities and staff. They also want Canada Soccer to be transparent about budgets and how funds are spent, including details of its agreement with Canadian Soccer Business.

The women were dismayed to learn about budget cuts to Canada’s men’s and women’s national soccer programs and their associated youth teams, coming just six months before the biggest competition in women’s soccer.

What is Canadian Soccer Business?

Created in 2018 by a number of sports business veterans, including Scott Mitchell and Bob Young of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, CSB signed an initial 10-year deal to broker many of the most valuable assets of Canada Soccer, including all corporate partnerships as well as the foreign and domestic broadcast rights to the women’s and men’s national team games (except for those that take place under the auspices of FIFA, such as World Cup matches). CSB also owns all of the commercial assets of the Canadian Premier League, including sponsorship and media rights of each club.

None of the prize money won by the women’s or men’s national teams goes to Canadian Soccer Business. Nor does the company earn revenue for Canada Soccer’s marketing licensing, ticketing licensing, or jersey sales: All of that money flows directly to Canada Soccer.

In a statement issued Monday evening, Canadian Soccer Business claimed it had “invested close to $100-million in the development of the game” in the country. But that figure covers a wide range of elements, from building and renovating CPL stadiums to developing professional referees, not just payments to Canada Soccer.

Which other national soccer teams have gone through this?

A years-long battle waged by members of the U.S. women’s national team against its own federation regarding pay equity ended in 2022 when U.S. Soccer agreed to a settlement for US$24-million in a discrimination lawsuit. A collective bargaining agreement followed later that year, which included an equal split of World Cup bonuses for the men’s and women’s teams.

Have players from Canada’s men’s team reacted?

Both men’s and women’s national teams have been embroiled in labour talks with Canada Soccer for months. The Canadian men refused to play a scheduled friendly in Vancouver last summer because of their unhappiness at the state of the negotiations, which included division of prize money from their World Cup.

The women say the men have been great allies, sharing information about how they prepared for Qatar. The men put out a statement supporting the women on the weekend.

“We are at a pivotal moment in time for soccer in Canada,” read the statement from the Canada Men’s National Soccer Team Players Association. “This is a once-in-a-generation, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow the sport in Canada, and the current leadership of Canada Soccer is putting that opportunity at risk.”

What does Canada Soccer have to say?

On Saturday, Canada Soccer said it had “committed to negotiating a comprehensive collective agreement with both of the player associations of the women’s and men’s national teams. That agreement, once concluded, will be an historic deal that will deliver real change and pay equity in Canada Soccer. It is a goal worth getting right.”

What does Parliament have to say about the dispute?

The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage – the same committee that questioned Hockey Canada executives in Ottawa last year about their handling of sexual abuse allegations – now wants to question Soccer Canada about this labour impasse.

“As you saw with Hockey Canada, having access to documents allows you to ask very pointed questions,” Liberal MP Anthony Housefather told The Canadian Press on Monday. “But the main thing here is there’s been a desire from the women’s and the men’s national teams, at the very least, and I think many others across the community to have greater transparency in Canada Soccer. And there’s been questions about governance.

“These are the issues that our committee explored with Hockey Canada and these are the issues I think we will explore with Canada Soccer.”

What else has been going on with Canada Soccer?

This is the second time this month Canada Soccer has made headlines for internal issues. In early February a New Zealand news outlet reported that men’s national team coach John Herdman had agreed to take over the 105th-ranked All Whites, much to the confusion of Canadian soccer fans.

With Canada set to play host to a joint World Cup in 2026, it seemed odd that Herdman, who formerly coached both the Canadian and the New Zealand national women’s sides, would consider leaving his post. Herdman and Canada Soccer eventually released a statement denying that Herdman was leaving, but the report left many scratching their head.

Cathal Kelly: Canada Soccer has hit the big time with coach John Herdman – a big-time HR headache

When does the Canadian women’s team play next?

The Olympic champion Canadians, currently ranked sixth in the world, will play their scheduled games in the She Believes Cup under protest, Thursday against the U.S in Orlando, Sunday against Brazil in Nashville, and next Wednesday versus Japan in Frisco, Tex. It’s a four-team round-robin tournament providing game action as the teams prepare for the Women’s World Cup. Christine Sinclair said the team is considering a way that they might express their protest on the field.

If not resolved soon, the dispute could linger beyond this current training window.

“There’s a FIFA window coming up in April, where, we have said that if things are not just addressed, if things aren’t fixed, we will not be going to that camp,” Sinclair said. “So this is obviously like a short-term solution.”

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