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‘Everything is at stake’: the fight for equal pay in Canadian football



Kaylyn Kyle is an Olympic bronze medalist turned broadcaster with deep, personal experience playing for Canada. Speaking exclusively to Moving the Goalposts this week, Kyle says that when it comes to the labour dispute between Canada Soccer and the women’s national team: “Everything is at stake.”

Where are the funds? This is the resounding question defining the present fallout. It was asked pointedly by the Canadian Soccer Players’ Association (CSPA) in their original strike announcement. It was underlined by Kyle in speaking to the Guardian.

According to Kyle, both the men and women have been asking that question for quite some time. “When people ask for transparency, there seems to be none,” she says. “And that’s not only with the women’s team, this isn’t just a women’s team fight. It’s also with the men’s team. I’ve spoken to numerous people in and around the men’s team that never have clarity. They don’t have that communication. They don’t know what’s going on, because there’s no transparency. And I think the one biggest thing from talking to both sides, is everyone wants transparency. Everyone wants honest, open conversations. And there hasn’t been one.”

Kaylyn Kyle. Photograph: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile/Getty Images

Despite historic success on the pitch, Canada Soccer announced severe budget cuts for 2023. Those cuts undercut key support for the women in a World Cup year. Seen as the final straw, the CSPA announced strike action before the SheBelieves Cup on 10 February. Canada Soccer threatened legal action if the women proceeded, which all but forced them to play.

The situation is in flux, but the key question is consistent: where are the funds?

Canada Soccer’s agreement with Canada Soccer Business has come under particular scrutiny as observers seek answers. And although Canada Soccer Business claims its role is misunderstood, former players such as Kyle have their doubts. More than anything, Kyle says some feel that a business agreement was made between two parties – Canada Soccer and Canada Soccer Business – without transparency or clarity about what it specifically entails, and whether unnecessary funds are being diverted away from the national team because of it.

Unable to play The global women’s game is no stranger to job action. Others have taken a stand against football federations deemed insufficient in their support (or specific management personnel) of the women’s game. That action often includes protesting by the force of a federation’s stars taking prolonged absence from the pitch.

Fans hold signs in support of the Canadian women’s national team.
Fans hold signs in support of the Canadian women’s national team. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

Norway’s Ada Hegerberg is among the more famous examples, as the first ever Ballon d’Or Féminin winner sat out the 2019 World Cup as a protest against gender inequality. A significant portion of Spain’s marquee talent remains at loggerheads with their national team, holding specific ire for entrenched manager, Jorge Vilda. Just last week, the French Football Federation came under scrutiny as Wendie Renard, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani announced they would not participate in the upcoming World Cup under present conditions.

Kyle says if things don’t change for Canada, she could see multiple retirements happening after the World Cup this year. She says some have attempted to step away before it.

“Sophie Schmidt is a prime example,” she says. ”She announced her retirement after everything broke. And then it was Christine Sinclair that told her: ‘Hey, stick this out. We need you to play in the Women’s World Cup coming up this summer.’ So she decided to, and I really wouldn’t be shocked if there was a lot of retirement post this World Cup. And, yeah, you can talk about ageing of the players, but I think a lot of them, with the success that they’ve had in the last three major tournaments, at the Olympic Games, they probably would want to stick out as long as they could, until their legs fall off. But unfortunately, when you play for an association that’s not willing to support you … It makes it an easier decision to want to retire from your national team, which is super sad and super disappointing.”

When the CSPA announced job action on 10 February, the players were forced back on the field under threat of legal action. With a forced hand, they played. But they found themselves unable to play to their usual standard.

Norway’s Ada Hegerberg sat out thr 2019 World Cup to highlight gender inequality in football.
Norway’s Ada Hegerberg sat out the 2019 World Cup to highlight gender inequality in football. Photograph: Daniela Porcelli/SPP/Shutterstock

“You saw the opening game against the US Women’s National Team and at [the] SheBelieves Cup,” explains Kyle. “We were mentally fatigued. We looked exhausted. We literally looked like we had nothing in our legs because of everything that they’re going through.”

Canada are among Fifa’s top-ranked women’s football nations. But for invested observers such as Kyle, it can be hard to imagine success at this year’s World Cup when so much energy could be diverted off the pitch.

‘A slap in the face’ When asked if Canada Soccer treats the men and women equally, Kyle responds: “The numbers don’t lie. That’s the bottom line. I think the players dropped the numbers two weeks ago, before going into the SheBelieves Cup and those numbers are scary. I didn’t think it was that bad, if I’m being completely honest.”

The disparity in spending ould in part be explained by the costs of qualifying for the World Cup, which for the men necessitated far more disparate travel and associated costs, though the full details remain unclear. For further evidence of unequal treatment, Kyle believes we look no further than the confirmation of a spring match at BMO Field in Toronto this spring for the men’s team.

“It just got announced that the Canadian men’s national team is playing on home soil and I believe at BMO Field,” she says. The women don’t have any home games leading up to a Women’s World Cup. For me, it’s just disrespectful, and to announce that now, considering everything that’s going on … It’s actually almost a slap in the face: ‘We actually don’t care about the women’s national team.’”

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Kyle shares another anecdote involving the newly-resigned former president of Canada Soccer, Nick Bontis. When she returned from Qatar, where she was covering the men’s World Cup, he texted her to ask how they could “make 2026 great”. Kyle says: “I wanted to respond: how do we make 2023 great? You do realise you’re texting a female player, a female former player. It’s just disrespectful.”

Nick Bontis, right, during a news conference in Vancouver last June.
Nick Bontis, right, during a news conference in Vancouver last June. Photograph: Darryl Dyck/AP

Kyle also sees Bontis’s latest appointment as a point of particular frustration: “Also, Concacaf announced that Nick Bontis is now the Concacaf Council vice-president of North America, which again, is another slap in the face. How do you promote someone like that into a position like that? After everything that he’s done to Canada Soccer and the incompetency that he’s brought.”

What happens next? On Monday evening, Bontis resigned from Canada Soccer, facing internal pressure. For now, his post within Concacaf remains untouched. In his resignation, Bontis hinted a historic CBA was looming: “Canada Soccer and both of our national team programs have the real potential to sign a historic collective bargaining agreement. Once signed, it will be a landmark deal that will set our nation apart from virtually every other Fifa member association.”

But elsewhere, there are hints of renewed strike action. Rick Westhead reported on Tuesday that players would be within a legal strike position “within days”.

Canada players during the recent SheBelieves Cup in Nashville.
Canada players during the recent SheBelieves Cup in Nashville. Photograph: Georgia Soares/SPP/Shutterstock

The success of any action taken by the women (and men) playing for Canada remains uncertain. But as Kyle points out, it has been a long time coming. What is different this time is the success of both teams on the pitch, and the attention (and pressure) that success engenders. The situation remains in flux, with updates are expected any day.

Mary Earps was named Goalkeeper of the Year at the awards, delivering an emotional speech dedicated to “anyone who’s ever been in a dark place”.

Absolutely love how you can see all the faces in the room just completely captured by Mary Earps. This is so powerfully delivered, and the award so totally deserved. Congrats Mary 😍

— Ben Haines (@benhainess) February 28, 2023

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