Football: Canada women's coach says players 'drained' amid pay equity dispute

Tokyo 2020 Olympics women's football gold medallists Canada posing during the medal ceremony. PHOTO: REUTERS

TORONTO – Canada head coach Bev Priestman said on Wednesday the dispute between the women’s team and national governing body over pay equity issues and budget cuts has left her squad emotionally drained when their focus should be on World Cup preparations.

The reigning Olympic champions boycotted training last Saturday while demanding immediate changes but reversed course later that day as Canada Soccer called their strike unlawful and also threatened legal action.

The squad said they would play under protest at the four-nation SheBelieves Cup that starts this week in the United States but promised future boycotts if their demands over pay equity are not met.

“To start the year like this isn’t great but I think more importantly on the pitch you lose training sessions, you have players emotionally drained,” Priestman told reporters during a video call.

“It’s been draining and emotional for myself too, trying to navigate the difficult circumstances that I am in.

“So I want this resolved as quickly as both parties do, to be able to move forward, not lose sessions, have an energetic group that can focus on what happens on a soccer pitch.”

Members of the national squad said during a virtual call on Tuesday that if their concerns are not fixed in time, they would not attend the next team camp in April.

Priestman, whose team will use the SheBelieves Cup as part of their preparations for the July 20-Aug 20 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, also said she was proud of her players and honoured to represent them.

“What comes out loud and clear to me is this group are not just fighting for themselves in the next six months,” said Priestman.

“What is really strong from this is to make sure that the next generation of players come through, have the same opportunity to represent themselves and perform at the highest level just like their counterparts.”

Priestman also shot down reports that she was considering her options after the World Cup but did admit that “regular opportunities” have come her way since she led Canada to a gold medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.

“The biggest thing is I’m committed to this group of players and I’ve shared some incredible moments with them. And I want those moments to continue,” said Priestman.

“It is a really difficult circumstance, we can’t hide from that. But my aim is to be with this group of players and to share more incredible moments.”

OneLove armband

One of Canada’s chief World Cup rivals are European champions England, whose captain Leah Williamson said on Wednesday she hopes to wear the OneLove armband at the tournament, as the team aim to continue showing their support for the LGBT community.

Fifa had made it clear the multi-coloured armband, introduced to support diversity and inclusion, was not welcome at the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar.

As a result, a number of European nations abandoned plans to wear it after being warned they would face sporting sanctions, including their captains being booked or ordered to leave the pitch.

Williamson said England are determined to continue showing their support after wearing the armband throughout their triumphant run to the Euro 2022 title.

“It’s something we want to do all year round and we’ve done previously,” Williamson told a news conference ahead of their opening match at the Arnold Clark Cup against South Korea on Thursday.

“The statement that was made at the Euros with every team participating was incredible, every picture we have with a trophy lift there’s a rainbow armband in there.

“It’s a great stage and a great time to promote the values we believe in so much, so I hope it’s the same.”

One Love armbands, which were banned by FIFA at the World Cup Qatar 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Williamson added England would never stop standing up for what they believe in.

“We’re a squad that promotes inclusivity and equality, we obviously have a number of people that feel very strongly about it,” she said.

“It’s not even a question for us.”

The England captain also referred to the Czech Republic international Jakub Jankto, who on Monday announced that he is gay, saying he wants to live his life “in freedom”.

“You’ve seen another men’s player step out and be as brave as they can be and they’ve changed their whole life. They don’t know what’s coming,” she added.

“So, for us to stand in solidarity with that is important to us but it’s something we’ve always done, it’s something we’ll continue to do.

“We’re not just impacting football, we’re trying to have a positive impact on society too and that’s one of the ways we can do that.”

Spain depleted but still dangerous

England beat Spain en route to their Euro 2022 triumph, but the Spanish remain unbeaten in five games since a revolt by a host of leading players left them short of star power ahead of the World Cup after a 3-0 win over Jamaica on Thursday.

Real Madrid’s Maite Oroz and Esther Gonzalez scored in the first half with Valencia midfielder Fiamma Benitez adding a third after the break to kick-start the Cup of Nations in Australia, which also features the hosts and Czech Republic.

All teams bar the Czechs have qualified for the World Cup, with the current four-nation tournament being used as crucial preparation for the showpiece event.

World No. 7 Spain’s victory at Gosford, north of Sydney, came despite a weakened squad due to a festering dispute between coach Jorge Vilda and 15 top players who have been frozen out since September.

They had complained about issues within the national team that affected their “emotional and personal state” – reportedly the locker-room atmosphere and Vilda’s training methods.

None have featured since the Spanish FA backed the coach, with their places at the World Cup under threat if the differences cannot be resolved.

Despite this, Spain are unbeaten in five games since the row exploded, including a 2-0 win over world champions the United States to showcase the depth that makes them a serious World Cup contender.

They were also without injured two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas on Thursday. REUTERS, AFP

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