ORLANDO, Fla. — Three years after the United States women’s national team protested their federation at the SheBelieves Cup, Canada’s players find themselves in a similar situation.
Despite the longstanding rivalry between the teams, though, there is camaraderie from the common fight for equity off the field. On Thursday, that will play out on the field for a global audience.
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“We’re with them 100 percent and obviously know exactly what they’re going through, how difficult it is to do all that off the field and have to perform,” U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe said Wednesday, one day before the two teams are scheduled to play at the exhibition tournament.
Canada players threatened their federation with a strike last week over what they say are unequal conditions and resources compared to the men’s team. Players also said they were not paid at all in 2022.
The Canadian Soccer Association responded by threatening legal action, which could have potentially cost players millions in personal damages if they did not participate in the SheBelieves Cup.
Canadian players said they will participate in this tournament in protest, and that they will show that in some visual way when they take the field Thursday at Exploria Stadium. U.S. captain Becky Sauerbrunn said her team will join them.
“I think you should plan on seeing some things for the game tomorrow,” Sauerbrunn told ESPN. “Whether it be statements or on-field protests, I think there will be stuff that we are organizing and we are in full support of them.”
On Wednesday, Canada players trained at Exploria Stadium in a combination of unmarked gear and apparel that was turned inside-out to hide the Canada Soccer logo.
This is not the first time that the SheBelieves Cup, a friendly tournament that U.S. Soccer hosts annually, has fallen in the crosshairs of labor disputes in the women’s game.
In 2020, the U.S. women turned their warm-up shirts inside-out to hide the U.S. Soccer logo and show only the outline of the federation’s crest and the four stars above it, representing the four World Cup championships they won.
The protest was in response to legal filings days earlier in which U.S. Soccer’s counsel, as part of the years’ long fight for equal pay, argued that women were inferior athletes.
Players and the U.S. Soccer finally ended their fight last year with a $24 million settlement for backpay and a new collective bargaining agreement that brought equitable pay with the U.S. men’s team.
U.S. men and women will split their collective World Cup prize money equally, one of the biggest roadblocks during the six years of fighting.
On Thursday, U.S. veterans Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn and Alex Morgan said they will offer whatever advice they can to their Canadian colleagues. Sauerbrunn has been in direct contact with Canada captain Christine Sinclair, who is her club teammate with Portland Thorns FC.
Canada is the USWNT’s most frequent historical opponent and arguably its biggest rival, but the crossover between the programs is significant.
Most Canadians and Americans have historically played in the National Women’s Soccer League, and many of Canada’s top players played in the U.S. college system.
“There are just some things that are so much bigger than what’s happening on the field, just basic human rights and respect and getting what they deserve,” Rapinoe said. “We’re talking about the Olympic champions here, so that was so well deserved and such a huge step forward for them.
Rapinoe added that she was bewildered why the Canadian federation was treating its players in such a fashion on the heels of winning a major international title.
The Canadian women won the country’s first Olympic gold medal in soccer in 2021, defeating the U.S. in the semifinals at the Tokyo Games. That came after back-to-back Olympic bronze medals in 2012 and 2016.
Last year, Canada’s men’s team made the World Cup for the first time in 36 years and had double the staff members at the tournament than the women are usually afforded, Canada women’s forward Janine Beckie said this week.
Beckie was in Qatar and saw the men’s team’s setup firsthand as Canada failed to advance from the group stage.
On Tuesday, Beckie said that this Canada women’s team can follow up that performance with a World Cup title, but they need better support from their federation, including increased staffing and more players in camps. The Canadian Soccer Association, meanwhile, is planning budget cuts.
Beckie and her teammates also said that they want to see further investment into women’s youth programming so that the program’s success can be sustained over the long-term.
At minimum, Canada players said they want to be paid what they are owed from 2022 or they will not play in April, the final official FIFA window before this summer’s World Cup period begins.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s tense,” Sinclair said. “I’ve been on this team for a very long time and it has been a constant battle with the CSA to try and put forth progressive CBAs. The problems that we are facing right now as men’s and women’s [teams], something has to change.”
Thursday’s opponent offers the Canadians both a significant platform and a staunch ally in their fight. U.S. players said for years that their equal-pay fight was about more than just themselves. As Sauerbrunn said on Wednesday, the Americans “wrote the playbook” on the battle.
Recently, they have watched players and teams around the world take up similar fights.
Rapinoe said she thinks off-field fights for equity galvanizes players to perform better, at least in her extensive experience. She won the 2019 World Cup Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player, while also leading a social media fight against then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
“It’s all the same thing to me, whether it’s England winning Euros in the fashion that they did, or the WNBA and their new CBA, or the hockey team, or our team, the NWSL, Canada now,” Rapinoe said. “We’re all on the same team off the field, so it all feels like a snowball effect. I realize our team is one of the first to do it, one of the loudest to do it, and one of the most successful to do it on and off the field. I think we take a lot of pride in that.
“We wish it were moving quicker and teams didn’t have to do that, but I think it’s becoming easier for them to do that and much more difficult for federations and organizations to deny sort of basic employment rights and basic human rights.”
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