Lack of promotion of Olympic championships is shameful
This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
We are less than 60 days away from the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the biggest women’s soccer tournament in the world.
But for all the hype and excitement that should be spreading from one coast to the other, the Canadian women’s national team has been unusually quiet. The team has no home games before they go, and the only thing on the Canada Soccer social media account is the announcement of their first World Cup match against Nigeria on Thursday, July 20 in Melbourne.
No hoopla, no fanfare, no montages leading up to the World Cup. Nothing.
The only news I have seen of late is world-class Canadian defender Ashley Lawrence making a move (yet to be confirmed) from her current pro team, Paris Saint-Germain of French Division 1, to Chelsea of the Super League in the U.K.
Lawrence has been in France for more than seven years. The talented fullback said about what drew her to Europe: “The way we experience football here, how we play it. And it was an environment in which I wanted to evolve.”
Lawrence has played with Paris St.Germain, won the league title in France and been lauded as one of the most dangerous players on the pitch. Her ability to pivot from defending to creating plays makes her unique and critical for Canada’s squad.
This is a lot of excitement for Canadian women’s soccer fans because it puts her on the same squad as national teammates Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan — a trio that is extremely impressive. In 2021, both Fleming and Lawrence were nominated for the Ballon d’Or Feminin, the most prestigious award in soccer.
But this is the only player news we’ve heard lately and on a squad so talented, we should be hearing more about the team.
The only recent news surrounding the women’s team that reached international press was for their fight against Canada Soccer, struggling for equity and equal pay, and testifying in front of the Heritage Committee in Ottawa. It was hardly the lead-up to the World Cup that this team deserves.
I spoke with former national team player and Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer Amy Walsh, who is now part of the soccer development team at CF Montreal of Major League Soccer. Walsh noted that the fanfare Canada’s men team received leading up to the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar stood in “stark contrast to what women’s soccer has been offered.”
Before the Canadian men’s long-awaited return to the World Cup, there was a documentary that was dropped on YouTube by Canada Soccer and a lot of press — something I can confirm because I was interviewed multiple times on this topic.
Walsh said the responsibility to amplify the team will likely fall on the athletes themselves instead of being fully supported publicly.
“In order to champion equality, you can’t just talk about a proposed historic CBA. If you can’t offer equity on a daily basis — and I’m not talking about the pay dispute in the background — you’re hurting soccer,” Walsh said of Canada Soccer’s efforts to promote the team.
The lack of a send-off game is appalling to me. I remember when the Canadian women played Mexico ahead of the 2019 World Cup in France. I was covering that match and my daughter was in the stands with her girls soccer team. The excitement was palpable and the fans were screaming and cheering for their “sheroes” in the sold-out BMO Field in Toronto.
My then-17 year-old daughter waited for me as I interviewed players after the game. She is a goalkeeper who plays in Ontario’s League1. She is naturally tenacious. But at that moment she was starstruck. In front of her was Steph Labbé.
My daughter chattered all the way home about meeting her goalkeeping idol. We both will never forget that interaction and although the players meet hundreds of fans, these moments empower their supporters. My child was so motivated and inspired to continue to play.
Seeing women play at home builds up a pride that cannot be understated. Taking that power away from fans is almost cruel. No other kids will get that opportunity to see them play at home. Their most recent game came in April, a 2-1 loss to France in Le Mans.
WATCH: Canada falls to France:
The players seeing the fans and feeling their exuberance is part of preparation for play. They are about to face extremely talented European teams in an expanded tournament. Any support is not only required but very important. To not receive this from their own federation continues to be mind-boggling.
There were some discussions about “squeezing in” a home game before the women leave for Australia. Walsh said that a sendoff game may seem “meaningless,” but it truly matters to players who have been public about how much that attention is appreciated.
There are movements and intentions to try to reconnect and unite all teams under the Canadian soccer banner in the long term. But any help for the women’s team this close to the World Cup seems impossible.
While there are initiatives and campaigns on the horizon from individual players, the undercurrent of support for the whole team is too quiet. There should be emphatic support.
Canada Soccer should be working overtime to compensate for the lack of public attention and that means connecting with players or personnel and creating opportunities for stories and for amplification.
Right now the field seems eerily quiet. This team is beloved to their fans. With all the momentum around women’s sport in Canada and the proposed Canadian soccer league given a “go,” support for this squad should be blaring out from all media fronts and pushed by Canada Soccer.
The team that has advocated for these pathways and for a sustainable future of women’s soccer in Canada should get the highest level of support possible. I would like to think of possible support for the women’s team as a classic music piece that leads up to a crescendo just before the tournament begins on July 20.
Right now it feels like nothing has been composed and other than a few bars the theatre is too quiet.