February 12, 2011
There's no magical cure to fix what ails women's soccer in Canada
By GARETH WHEELER, Special to QMI Agency
TORONTO - The Canadian women’s soccer team has left for training camp in Rome, away from the spotlight it has cast on itself and its association.
And the headlines haven’t read well.
Cries of “Mutiny” and “Boycott” aren’t favourable to promoting your brand. Canadians have grown accustomed to similar headlines like the one’s widespread over the past week about the Canadian Soccer Association. The public reaction hasn’t changed either; the perception is one that the CSA is ‘cheaping’ out again — flipping the page, turning the channel.
Vernacular as such is nothing new. Jabs at our men’s national teams’ futility and finger-pointing when it comes to Canadian players choosing to play for other countries instead of Canada are the rule, not the exception. So a sterling public relations record the CSA simply does not have.
But this time around with the senior women’s team threatening to boycott international matches, it has to be said the criticism coming the CSA’s way is rather uncalled-for.
This isn’t to pick sides. It’s an argument nobody wins. But it should be said, budgetary issues and compensation debates linked to head coach Carolina Morace’s decision to tender her resignation after this summer’s World Cup, and thus her team threatening to boycott has more to do with the cruel economic realities of not just the CSA, but women’s team sport in general.
The Canadian women absolutely deserve more money, or standardized compensation, whatever they are looking for. And as for Morace, who wouldn’t want the leader of an ambitious program to have the financial freedom to do as she pleases. The demands are well taken.
But unfortunately, what they want doesn’t make financial sense. The Canadian women’s team doesn’t make money. Women’s soccer doesn’t make money. The Canadian women don’t make money in television rights. And prize money in international competition is just a small splash, considering the total prize money purse for the women’s World Cup is in the 7.6 million dollar range, while the men’s competition pays out upwards of half a billion dollars in prize money to their participating teams.
For the good of our soccer nation and despite all expenses, the CSA supports the women’s team as much as it can on its shoe-string budget. And it isn’t the only team the CSA props up. Nine of the ten teams Canada fields internationally don’t make money; with the only one that does being the men’s national team, and financial gains, at this point remain nominal.
So what should the CSA’s mandate be? Should it break its budget simply because it’s the “right thing to do”? Or should it make sure it can cover its losses and build within its means?
Other nations making exponentially more from their men’s programs don’t invest in women’s soccer. And they have the means to do so. The CSA simply does not. So in its threats, the Canadian women and their coach are dipping from a well that’s far too shallow.
Think about it: Why aren’t other nations bidding for the 2015 women’s World Cup other than Canada and Zimbabwe? For Canada, it makes sense to build more soccer infrastructure and legacy, but it’s not to make money.
Over the years, the CSA has actually promoted the women’s game far more than more advanced soccer nations. In fact, the successes of local and regional girl’s programs often came at the expense of the boy’s. On a micro level, investing in girls’ soccer made a whole lot of sense.
Local clubs, like where I grew up in Burlington, chose to put their resources into the girls’ game, bringing in the best coaches and providing conditions to succeed. Girls would come from far and wide to the Burlington Youth Soccer Club; the BYSC had a reputation favourable to getting girls scholarships at NCAA schools (the ultimate goal for many young girls playing in the GTA).
So while the BYSC would stage camps with American coaches and commit to travelling to the biggest and best youth tournaments, the boys programs languished, receiving no such treatment. So instead, many, including myself, with ambition, were forced to travel to far away clubs to satiate our competitive desires.
Was it fair? Not necessarily. But it made sense for clubs like the BYSC to take advantage of the financial windfall of being an “it” club for the girls game. Why invest in boys — where American scholarships are few and far between — when they were ahead of the curve in the girls’ game, having more success and therefore making more money?
This mindset has been commonplace across the GTA for the better part of two decades and has benefitted our Canadian women’s program to no end. But once they’ve played out their NCAA days, there’s very little opportunity to advance, make money at the professional level. Senior women’s soccer remains a financial boondoggle. So it’s fair to say the Canadian women‘s team plays a remarkable number of games considering there is no financial windfall for the CSA.
In the end, it should be made clear; the women’s team will not boycott. It has too much at stake. And more likely than not, Morace will stay with the program. But if she doesn’t, the program will carry on and inevitably, it will be the players who will determine the program’s fate. After all, the Canadian women did finish fourth in the 2003 Women’s World Cup, pre-Morace.