Canada Soccer threatens to sue WNT players over strike action: report

Canada Soccer has threatened to sue the Canadian Soccer Players' Association (CSPA) and the women's national team players who said they are going on strike ahead of next week's SheBelieves Cup, Canadian broadcaster TSN reported Saturday.

Players from Canada's women's national team said Friday that they were taking job action due to budget cuts, equal pay issues and an overall lack of support from Canada Soccer.

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Canada Soccer's threat of legal action came shortly before federation president Nick Bontis and general secretary Earl Cochrane were scheduled to meet with team player representatives, sources told TSN.

Canada Soccer voluntarily recognized the CSPA as the exclusive bargaining agent for the country's women's national team in 2016. The separate Canadian Men's National Soccer Team Players Association was later recognized as the exclusive bargaining group for the men's senior team in 2022.

Neither the players nor a Canada Soccer spokesperson responded to TSN's request for comment.

The team is in Orlando, Florida, to prepare for the SheBelieves Cup, with its opener against the United States on Thursday. The four-team tournament is part of Canada's preparation for the World Cup, which kicks off July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.

The players boycotted training on Saturday, The Canadian Press reported, after Canada captain Christine Sinclair and forward Janine Beckie said Friday they won't represent Canada Soccer until their demands are met.

"It hurts, I'm not going to lie," Sinclair told TSN.

"We all represent this country proudly. We've shared some of the greatest moments together. But to not feel that support from your own federation has been hard in the past. But it's gotten to a point where, at least for me personally, until this is resolved I can't represent this federation. I'm such a competitor that breaks my heart and kills me..."

The CSPA released a letter Friday slamming Canada Soccer, saying it is "outraged and deeply concerned with the news of significant cuts" to national team programs.

The players association said if the problems aren't fixed, it believes new leadership should be found within Canada Soccer.

"If Canada Soccer is not willing or able to support our team, new leadership should be found," the statement said. "Despite our strong track record of success and history-making achievements for more than a decade, we continue to be told there is not enough money to adequately fund our program and our youth teams."

On Saturday, Canadian Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge said the government was prepared to intervene in the dispute.

"We will always support the right of women athletes to fair and equitable compensation," St-Onge wrote in a statement to TSN. "We are proud of our national female athletes and teams, and we fully support them. We will contact both parties shortly, and assess the situation to help find a positive resolution."

After the players posted the letter demanding changes and Sinclair and Beckie confirmed the national team strike, Canada Soccer answered with a statement saying that negotiations had been in place for months.

"Pay equity for our Women's National Team is at the core of our ongoing player negotiations. Canada Soccer will not agree to any deal without it," the statement said.

"Canada Soccer and our legal counsel will be meeting with our Women's National Team in Orlando tomorrow morning, as agreed to last Sunday, to continue our discussions."

The sixth-ranked women's national team and gold medalist at the Tokyo Olympics received the support from some USWNT players after publicizing their demands.

"What do they have to do, win a gold medal? Sell out stadiums? Oh wait... It's 2023, wake up Canada Soccer you're on the clock", United States star Alex Morgan tweeted.

Canada men's team issued a statement of support for the women.

"The Canadian Men's National Soccer Team players are, once again, deeply disappointed by the actions of Canada Soccer, and wholeheartedly support the Women's National Team players' statement made this afternoon about completely unsatisfactory preparation conditions for this summer's World Cup,'' that letter said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.