Mystery surrounds top coach's decision to quit after World Cup

ALISON KORN, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:09 PM ET

TORONTO - After stirring up controversy in the sport, the Canadian Soccer Association's top-performing coach is leaving for Italy tonight and one can only hope she'll be back.

Carolina Morace, the accomplished head coach who has turned around the Canadian women's soccer team, has vowed to quit the squad after the World Cup this summer and said her players' threatened mutiny is the decision of smart athletes acting on principle.

Morace confirmed as much in a phone conversation from her home in Toronto on Tuesday morning, saying her contract didn't allow her to divulge why she plans to resign. Morace leaves late Tuesday for training camp in Rome, Italy, in preparation for the Cyprus Cup in March. Players head to Italy on Friday.

The 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup will be in Germany from June 26 to July 7.

"I can't speak, I'm sorry," said Morace. "People will have to wait until after the World Cup. My athletes, all of them, are smart. I know them and for sure there are not two, three players that decide, but they decide together."

The team has refused to play any international matches if the situation isn't resolved, according to star player Christine Sinclair. It's alleged the Canadian Soccer Association has continuously stifled Morace in her running of the program, which has produced impressive results since she took over in early 2009.

Recently retired player Kara Lang wrote in a letter to the association, "Carolina Morace is the best thing that has ever happened to the women's program, and if not for the current governance structure, she would be able to do her job to the best of her ability."

Another issue is player compensation--hints that perhaps the men's team gets paid more than the women's team for games played --but without public figures, that's hard to confirm.

Whatever the causes, you have to suspect there are legitimate grievances here, since coaches and players who love what they do wouldn't take such desperate measures otherwise.

One way or another, the association has pissed off the coach and athletes who are Canada's best chance for an Olympic berth and medal in the sport. Great job, guys.

The story started last Thursday with a note emailed to media from a generic web-based e-mail account, womensnationalsoccerteam@gmail.com. It announced that Morace along with her staff, intended to leave the team after the 2011 World Cup.

"The Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) has a strategy to achieve their goals that differs from my strategy," Morace said in the statement. "I am proud of what my players have accomplished over this past year, winning the CONCACAF Women's World Cup Qualification Tournament in Mexico in November of 2010, the 2010 Cyprus Cup in February and Brazil's 4-Nations Tournament in December. Just a few days ago, the team placed second at the 4 -Nations Tournament in China."

The quietest party in all this is the Canadian Soccer Association, which issued a boilerplate statement Friday that it "has and will continue to support the Women's National Team Program to ensure its best possible opportunity for success at the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011 and beyond."

A spokesman said Tuesday that the chair of the national team committee, Victor Montagliani, "will sit down with Carolina" to discuss the situation, but no date for that has been set.

Morace asserted that her team has improved more than any other international squad in 2010 and has sacrificed a lot to do so. She's furious that anyone would question her loyalty to the team.

"What I can say is that I love my team, I love my players, I think that what we created with this team is something special," Morace said. "I heard people say that I have another team [that has hired] me, and this offends me a lot."

The Canadian national deaf hockey team is headed to Vysoke Tatry, Slovakia, for the 17th edition of the Winter Deaflympics Feb. 18 to 26. Former Kitchener Rangers player Anthony Pototschnik is on the team, which won silver at the 2007 Deaflympic Games in Salt Lake City and at the 2009 world championships in Winnipeg.

"This will be our redemption to gold," said executive team director Roy Hysen. "USA and Finland have proven to be very competitive teams."

Forty-one Canadian athletes will represent Canada in hockey, curling, alpine skiing and snowboarding. For more information about Team Canada, visit com.Formoreassccdsa.informationabout the Deaflympics, visit deaflympics2011.com.

SWIMMERS' RELIEF EFFORT

Classy move by Canadian swimmers training in Australia: Olympic and Commonwealth Games medallists Julia

Wilkinson, Ryan Cochrane, MacKenzie Downing, Blake Worsley, Hilary Caldwell,

Stephanie Horner and Stefan Hirniak are spending four weeks on the Sunshine Coast training at Caloundra Aquatic Lifestyle Centre in Australia. After seeing the Queensland flood crisis sweep through the state, the squad decided to do its part in fundraising. The team hosted a clinic Feb. 5 at the centre, with all proceeds going to the flood aid. Photos of the event are available at stefanhirniak.com.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is set to honour five legendary Olympic figures at this year's Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame Gala Dinner & Induction Ceremony Apr. 16.The event will take place in Moncton, N.B. Should be a big deal for the maritime city, which hosted the IAAF World Junior Athletics Championships last July--the smallest city ever to hold the event. Inductees include figure skater Elvis Stojko, swimmer Curtis Myden, bobsledder David MacEachern, women's hockey coach Melody Davidson and cycling builder Marc Lemay.

The Canadian Athletes Now fund is launching a speaking series with its first event next Wednesday at the Bloor Mariott in Toronto, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Speakers will be Olympic gold medallists Brian Price (men's rowing coxswain) and women's hockey player Jayna Hefford. Tickets are $20. To purchase call 416-487-4442 or visit canadianathletesnow.ca.


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