The last twelve months have been an exciting run as we have climbed from 122nd in the world to our current rank of #33. Over the next few months, we will have plenty of time to listen to the prognosticators discuss how we will take on Belgium, Croatia, and Morocco in our Group F matches. It will also be interesting to follow the brands that jump on board to join existing partners, such as Allstate, GoGo SqueeZ and Nike.
Suppose you are fortunate enough to be heading to Qatar. In that case, you will probably be juggling your life and work schedule for the long trip, let alone your bank account, to pay for what is probably going to be the most expensive major event you could imagine. But the opportunity to see Alphonso Davies, Cyle Larin, and Johnathan David compete at the highest of highest levels will be unique.
As crucial as these three stars are to the future of Canadian soccer, we need to celebrate and honour some other names who have etched their names on the red and white pitch for the past decade. So let’s start with the best Canadian soccer player ever, the GOAT, Christine Sinclair; continue with Erin McLeod, backstopping Canada to a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics, and add a dash of Ashley Lawrence, who scored a World Cup goal in her international debut at 17.
Think about this. It has been ten years since our Canadian women won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics, a journey that included a gut-wrenching semi-final loss to the Americans fuelled by one of the most disputed penalty calls in soccer history. A decade later, we have another Olympic bronze medal and a bright gold medal shining brightly in the trophy case built by our women’s team. Yet, we celebrate our men qualifying for their gender’s World Cup as our first ever soccer breakthrough.
Yes, I am excited. I am over the moon. I am excited for 2022 and delighted about 2026 when we see our men’s team play on home soil. The home soil where I witnessed Christine Sinclair score a winning mark in Edmonton to open the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The home soil where our women’s players, coaches, and supporters have toiled for years. Our home soil, where everybody in the Canadian soccer ecosystem strove to help our women get to the top of the international podium.
One of my favourite SponsorshipX presenters has been Canada Soccer leader Peter Montopoli. At our past forums, he talked about how that 2012 Olympic breakthrough was an overnight success some ten years in the making for our women’s side. If I invited him to talk about the 2022 men’s team, I am sure he might entitle the presentation similarly. Not to put words in his mouth, but he might even describe the blueprint they built for our women’s team breakthrough as what they utilized for the men.
(I have no inside knowledge, but John Herdman is the first coach to lead a men’s team to the World Cup after doing the same with a nation’s women’s team is a bit of a clue to me about that blueprint!)
My message today is clear and straightforward. We know that colossal inequity still exists in men’s and women’s sports. I am sure some readers of this piece will jump all over me about what this organization did or did not do for women’s soccer in Canada. Trust me, and I am not blind. That is why I am having this conversation. I want us to celebrate the men, but let’s give our women their due. Let’s ensure they are central to future discussions. Let’s use this newfound interest in Canadian soccer to spill over to all players in the sport. Let’s be great Canadians and celebrate all our diversity.
I have enjoyed working with our women’s stars in past programs, such as Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, and other greats. They deserve to be celebrated, feted, and rewarded. No person has scored more international goals in the world than Sinclair has. NO ONE.
So let’s take the Eurythmics’ lead and throw out that old expression – Behind Every Man is a Great Woman. Our soccer women are not here to be in the shadows of our men. On the contrary, our Canadian soccer women blazed a trail for our men, fought the battles for our country, and proved that we could be among the best in the world to the entire Canadian soccer ecosystem.
It is up to our men to live up to our women’s legacy.