Three cheers for Canada, the United States and Mexico as the three countries have landed the job of co-hosting the 2026 FIFA World Cup. I’m cheering too – with reservations.
The success of the “United 2026” bid will not only ensure that Canada qualifies as a host country; it will expedite the spread of soccer’s popularity. Teenage boys watching this year’s World Cup in Russia can aspire to play for Canada in a World Cup right here in their home country.
But this is a sports matter and in sports there is always a loser. In this instance the loser is the women’s game. For the next eight years soccer in Canada will be about the men’s team, the men’s game and our women’s team will be shunted aside in terms of attention and, who knows, maybe even resources. As in so many arenas of life, politics and the arts, big decisions made by men, for men, sell women short.
Stand back from the euphoria and one can see that a shift was already under way, and a confidence that the men’s World Cup was coming to Canada drove it. The only other contender for hosting was Morocco. In the past, FIFA has been perverse in its decisions but a more transparent voting process now in place meant that the U.S./Mexico/Canada bid was always going to win.
Thus John Herdman, the highly successful coach of our women’s team – two Olympic medals and a Pan American Games medal – moved to take charge of the men’s team. A priority was being brazenly asserted.
Herdman features prominently in promotional material for the nascent Canadian Premier League, a Canada-only men’s league launching in 2019. The plan is to nourish Canadian players – men – and coaches in cities where the Major League Soccer franchises (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) are absent. The CPL has the full support of the Canadian Soccer Association and substantial financial backing.
Most of Canada’s women’s national team play in the tiny, financially fragile, nine-team National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S. After years of women’s soccer being a hallmark of Canadian international sporting success, you’d think a women’s league here would merit support. Instead, our female soccer players earn their living abroad while the men’s game is being fostered at home. The CPL is hitching itself to the national men’s team and the World Cup unfolding here in 2026. As if the women’s game and our women’s team didn’t exist.
Canada is one of those rare countries where men who are soccer supporters will wear the shirt of a female player as a badge of honour. That’s because Christine Sinclair is the best soccer player, male or female, this country has produced and one of the best in the world for a decade. Something is being squandered – that goodwill, that status the women’s team acquired – when the male game suddenly triumphs in public attention and sustenance. Away from the elation about the successful bid, a lot of women must be rolling their eyes – it’s a matter of women being asked to step aside, and stand down, as the men are taking charge.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the World Cup. I’ve covered three tournaments and it’s a thrilling experience. Mind you, if you’re a grownup, you realize what an insanely testosterone-driven experience it is. The media hordes are mostly male. The armies of supporters are mostly male. The players are all male. The great soccer writer and author Simon Kuper once wrote, “I’ve never appreciated women as much as during World Cups.” Been there.
Canada has already hosted a World Cup of soccer. Women’s teams from 24 countries played in six cities in Canada in the summer of 2015. It was played, controversially, on artificial field turf. No men’s team would play a World Cup match in such conditions. And they certainly won’t be asked to do so in 2026. The women’s game is always expected to deal with the second-rate and put up with less. Less money, less glamour, less attention.
I covered that World Cup too. It was unnerving at times to be aware it wasn’t testosterone-driven. While in Moncton, N.B., reporting on the games, I was stunned to see the French national team out for a stroll, chatting with supporters, enjoying the evening air. I stared at Louisa Necib, a midfielder of sublime skill. She grinned at me and waved. It was different, that World Cup.
The timing of the successful bid for 2026 is advantageous for the men’s team in purely soccer terms. After decades as a rather hopeless outfit – the Canadian men last qualified for a World Cup in 1986 – the team has a handful of good young players and Vancouver teenager Alphonso Davies has the makings of a superstar. The spotlight on those young players will test them but mostly celebrate them.
Meanwhile the Canadian women’s national team is at a point where some of its iconic players, like Sinclair and Diana Matheson and Erin McLeod, are reaching the end of their careers. But there is a batch of gifted younger players emerging. And they, like the entire women’s game in Canada, are about to be shunted side. They lose out when big decisions are made by men, for men.