VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Canada’s national women’s soccer team is golden at the Olympics, but the country is facing some criticism off the pitch for its lack of a professional league.
Team Canada Captain Christine Sinclair made powerful comments after receiving her gold medal in Tokyo Friday, saying it’s time Canada invest in a professional league or some pro teams, adding “if a gold medal and three Olympic medals doesn’t do that, nothing will.”
Calls for pro women’s soccer in Canada have been growing, and are only getting louder after the historic Olympic win in Tokyo.
Andrea Neil, who is a former member of the national team, is among those pushing for change.
“I think culturally, there is disparity even in the workplace environment between men and women, and we have to come to a point to just say, ‘we’re people.’ And it needs to be equitable and even for the amount of time and effort,” Neil, who is from Vancouver, told NEWS 1130.
She says the conversation has been happening for far too long.
“I was part of a coaching staff way back when and the same thing was being talked about 10 years ago that Canada is years behind most of the countries throughout the world, as far as a domestic league. Now, this is 10 years later and it’s still the same case and other leagues have been built up to be incredible environments for many Canadian players to be a part of. But it’s time to bring something home for Canada, for players, for coaches, for administrators, for politicians,” Neil explained.
Describing it as a “big, missing step,” Neil says it’s time to bring more talent back to Canada, noting many players who don’t make the national team out of post-secondary start looking internationally for a place to play.
Currently, the highest level in women’s soccer in Canada is playing for the national team. While there are professional men’s teams, no such thing exists for women in this country.
Canada’s rise to gold was an emotional journey for many. Team Canada beat Team USA in the semifinal of the Olympic soccer tournament on Monday, stunning many.
But the talent has been there for a long time, and many hope the gold-medal win will help propel women’s soccer into the spotlight it deserves.
Neil says a pro future for women in soccer is the next step in inspiring future generations.
“And that’s the greatest thing is you provide an opportunity for people — young ones — to look towards. I mean, many of those players were watching London 2012 … or Rio 2016, now they’re on the field. But it’s not just that because you can have any player aspiring to do their best within U7 community soccer — young girls and boys — it can spark a generation,” she said, adding soccer is the number one participation sport in Canada.
“[Also], it’s accessible, and that’s the greatest thing about soccer.”
Neil believes it’s not just up to Canada Soccer to advocate for a professional women’s league or teams, adding everyone can play a role.
On Friday, Canada defeated Sweden 3-2 on penalty kicks after the teams finished extra time tied at one.
Vancouver-born Julia Grosso’s penalty shot was the game-winning goal, solidifying Canada’s first gold medal in women’s Olympic soccer.