Elite women's league gets no respect

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:12 AM ET

Always powerful ingredients for a Hollywood script, power and sex underline an unfolding soccer story.

It's not likely to win any Oscars.

The establishment of a proposed elite women's soccer league remains unclear because one party sees its power threatened and has taken what can only be interpreted as a sexist stance to consolidate it.

The Ontario Soccer Association has sought to nix a women's side of the Canadian Professional Soccer League with what appears to be an effort to keep the focus of the women's game on mass participation.

The CPSL, which wants to embark on a six-team elite league the first season in enclosed parks, feels there are ample reasons to establish a top-level loop.

Of course there are. Anyone who has witnessed girls' and women' play the past decade can tell you of the astonishing skill levels they have seen.

Fans who watched the national women's team on TV know all about it.

One of the great moments in Canadian sport recently came from the foot of young Kara Lang. When she struck the top corner from 20 metres at the under-19 world championships in 2002, a lot of people stood up and took notice.

It underscored the level at which women play the game. Just as hockey fans have come to appreciate the kind of game the Olympic gold-medal women's team can muster, soccer fans have become aware of the talents and fine skills of elite female players.

The OSA is in danger of becoming known as the Old Sexist Alliance if it continues to oppose a league that wants to take the game to a higher level. The argument that the Ontario Women's Soccer League exists (well-controlled by the OSA) is a non-starter.

Especially the argument that the new league would be draining off talent. If anybody should know, the OSA should be aware there is enough talent to go around and then some, even with the London Gryphons of the U.S.-based W-League in existence.

There are about 140,000 female soccer players registered in Ontario. Some estimates, when non-registered players are included, hike that to well over 200,000.

Plenty, in other words, for a feeder system to stock multiple leagues, especially when young girls see a clearly defined outlet for their talents as they mature.

The CPSL women's loop intends to operate not as a regular league in the coming summer but rather as a tournament league covering three months. Splitting hairs, the OSA charges, probably accurately.

The CPSL is under the governance of the OSA. And since the OSA is responsible for game officials, there's the threat it will restrict its refs and linesmen. But qualified refs and linesmen who have left the game are available.

Moreover, OSA control is not absolute. It falls under the umbrella of the national body, the Canadian Soccer Association and its decisions.

One fact remains: You can't stifle talent. And if there's a forum for it, talent will gravitate toward it and grassroots numbers will increase in anticipation of that.

What the OSA should be considering is a means to keep women players in Canada and not head south to play. Any top-level loop that can boast all the perks of a men's league ought to help that.

At the moment, elite girls' teams from around Ontario are as strong as any nation in the world. In other parts of the world, mind you, females playing soccer haven't quite caught the imagination of the people who control the game.

Here's a wager: It's a safe bet a Canadian women's team will win a World Cup long before a men's team if there are growing elite stages on which to prepare.


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