Canada’s national women’s team said they will return to team activities following threats of legal action from Canada Soccer due to the players’ protest over funding cuts.
Less than a week before the Olympic champions are due to play the United States, Brazil and Japan in the SheBelieves Cup, captain Christine Sinclair and Janine Beckie appeared on TSN on Friday to say they would not take part in any team activities – including playing – until the dispute was resolved.
The interview came after both Canada’s women’s and men’s teams issued statements complaining about budget cuts for the women’s team which the players said threatened to compromise their ability to perform at this year’s Women’s World Cup.
However, in a fresh statement late on Saturday, the team said they would be calling off the strike action following a meeting with Canada Soccer.
The statement said: “Canada Soccer told us that they consider our job action to be an unlawful strike.
“They told us that if we did not return to work – and did not commit today to playing in Thursday’s game against the United States – they would not only take legal action to force us back to the pitch but would consider taking steps to collect what could be millions of dollars in damages from our players association and from each of the individual players currently in camp.
“As individual players who have received no compensation yet for any of our work for Canada Soccer in 2022, we cannot afford the risks that personal action against us by Canada Soccer will create. Because of this, we have advised Canada Soccer that we will return to training tomorrow and will play in the SheBelieves Cup as scheduled.”
In response, Canada Soccer said it “respects the players’ right to organise”, but the players “were not and are not in a legal strike position under Ontario labour law”.
The organisation said in a statement: “Canada Soccer was not prepared to jeopardize the SheBelieves Cup tournament, the preparation it would afford the Women’s National Team for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, nor the experience it would afford countless fans who had undoubtedly traveled to Orlando to see their National Team heroes.
“Canada Soccer therefore took the necessary steps to ensure that such games will be played as scheduled. Canada Soccer is heartened that the Women’s National Team Players will play as it committed.”
In an earlier statement, the team said “significant dollars and resources were poured into our men’s national team to ensure there were no gaps in their preparation for the 2022 Men’s World Cup” while the women’s team were being asked to perform without the same backing.
The statement added: “We are tired – tired of constantly having to fight for fair and equal treatment, and for a program that will give us a chance to achieve what we know this team is capable of achieving for Canada.
“This lack of support threatens to reverse the progress we’ve made as a soccer nation and to send us back to obscurity. For our team to remain a force on the world stage we need a federation that operates and supports us at the level at which we are expected to deliver – world class.”
Despite the development, the team said their stance had not changed: “We continue to believe that Canada Soccer’s cuts to the national team programs – especially right before our World Cup – are unacceptable.
“We continue to believe that Canada Soccer needs to do more to support our programs and our players. And we continue to believe that unless we stand up together and demand more, nothing will ever change.”
Canada Soccer added it is “committed to a path to addressing each of the demands made by the players”, but “knows that is not enough”.
“There is still work to do,” the organisation said.
“Canada Soccer has 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.”