February 16 – Canada women’s coach Bev Priestman has called on Canada Soccer and her players to resolve their labour dispute over pay equality and cutbacks to the programme as soon as possible as the country enters crucial preparations for this year’s Women’s World Cup.
Priestman is beholden to her employer Canada Soccer, but sympathizes with her players fighting for equal treatment and pay on the eve of the SheBelieves Cup, an important warm-up tournament ahead of the global finals in Australia and New Zealand this summer.
“As a coach and a staff, it is incredibly challenging,” said Priestman at a news conference on Wednesday.
“I am proud and incredibly honoured to represent the group of players I have in front of me. Not just as players; what you see and you feel is what they stand for and I think what comes out loud and clear to me, is this group is not just fighting for themselves in the next six months, what is really strong for this group is to make sure the next generation of players that come through, have the same opportunity to represent themselves and perform at the highest level just like their (male) counterparts.”
She spoke of the emotional toll that the dispute has taken on the team and the coaching staff ever since the players last week decided to go on strike over the issue before reversing their plans when Canada Soccer threatened legal action.
Part of the players’ anger is geared toward Canadian Soccer Business, which unites the owners of Canada’s top flight clubs. Both the men’s and women’s teams believe that CSB has been pocketing money that should benefit the game though the CSB have denied taking any money from the game as part of their deal with Canadian Soccer to represent the federation’s commercial interests.
The women’s dispute mirrors the 2022 discontent of the men’s team that boycotted a friendly against Panama and highlights poor executive management at Canada Soccer in time of bloom for the game in the country.
Canada’s women are the current Olympic Champions, were runners-up at the Concacaf W Championship to the USA last June, and are ranked sixth in FIFA’s World Rankings.
“As a coach, naturally, I want this resolved as quickly as I can,” said Priestman. “I know that’s what the CSA (Canada Soccer) want and that’s what the players want.”
With questions over Priestman’s own future, Canada take on the United States in their first match of the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday before taking on Brazil and Japan in their other two matches. The players said they will play the tournament in protest.
“If you’re asking me as a woman do I believe in equality?” said Priestman.
“Absolutely, I have a little boy and I want him to know that I get the same opportunity as anybody else in this world to perform and do the things I need to do. It is difficult circumstances, it’s been a difficult start to the year and the camp, but I know the CSA and the players want this resolved as soon as possible and I’m incredibly proud of the group of people that I represent.”
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