Professional women’s soccer is coming to Canada.
Christine Sinclair and former national teammate Diana Matheson announced on Monday plans to launch a domestic women’s professional league by 2025, featuring eight teams across Canada.
Two players sit down with Nation‘s Adrienne Arsenault to reveal the news.
After the duo helped Canada win a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics — Matheson scored the winning goal — Sinclair had high hopes for improvement. After all, the team just weathered a drought on Canada’s 108-year podium in the sport.
“I really think 2012 will be a turning point for this country in bringing professional football home,” Sinclair told Arsenault.. “But it never happened. And there are no roads in this country yet.”
And so, a decade later, Sinclair and Matheson solved the problem themselves.
The still-unnamed tournament will begin in April 2025 with the first champion crowned in the fall. Each team will have at least one Canadian player and the goal is to bring home about half of the more than 100 Canadian players currently playing abroad.
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Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Calgary Foothills Soccer Club are confirmed as the first two teams to join the emerging league.
“Whitecaps FC is delighted to be one of the first teams to register for the professional women’s soccer league in Canada,” said Stephanie Labbe, general manager of women’s football at Whitecaps FC. “Creating this tournament is something we’ve been advocating for for years and being part of seeing it come to fruition has been really exciting.”
The league is being built by Matheson and her business partners at Project 8 Sports Inc. Sinclair, football’s all-time international goalscoring leader, joins as an official advisor.
“The whole idea behind this is to aim high. And like, what if you don’t hit your target?” Sinclair said.
“So let’s start at the beginning and compete against the best leagues in the world and bring in top talent. And yes, let 10-year-olds watch a game that 10 years later is the team. Whitecaps for example. That would be my dream.”
Matheson, who retired in July 2021, had a vision of how the league would push the entire Canadian women’s sports infrastructure forward.
“It’s health and wellness. It’s confidence. It’s tied to better learning. There’s a huge bond between women in sports and women in business,” Matheson said. “And this is about football, but it’s about coaches, about referees, about women in sports executive roles.”
A portion of that women’s athletic fabric is used for marketing such as jersey sales. Sinclair said she couldn’t even get her own jersey to give to her niece.
“I don’t know if they exist,” Sinclair said.
Matheson, 38, said she is working towards her Master of Business Administration degree, as well as joining the UEFA programme. She expects the league to become a member of Canada Soccer in 2023, with full punishment in 2024.
She said Air Canada and CIBC were involved as sponsors and it was especially important to have the right team owners involved in the tournament.
“One of the things is starting to have more diversity — more women, diverse voices starting, more players speaking out. And it’s top to bottom. I want women to own, women to be. on the board, female players speak out as part of this,” Matheson said.
The Oakville, Ont., native made the case that the purchase, expected to be between US$8-10 million, was a worthwhile investment, noting that the Football League clubs national women, purchased for US$150,000 10 years ago, is currently valued at a minimum of US$35 million.
Matheson says her league can compete with the average salary of players around the world right now.
“We have more opportunities to monetize our own brand. Players can show up, they can work with companies, they can run camps in ways that they can’t. while competing in Italy and England,” she said.
Another important point for Matheson and Sinclair is making sure players in their league are protected. Reports of abuse during the NWSL last season prompted half of the league’s coaches to resign.
Sinclair is the captain of the Portland Thorns, whose CEO Merrit Paulson resigned in October following reports of systematic emotional and verbal abuse, as well as sexual misconduct.
“[It’s] unfortunately how women are treated and taken advantage of. That’s why we need women in charge. We need female executives,” Sinclair said.
Matheson added: “It’s training, testing, independent reporting. And for us, that means working with teams that are really good at doing those things.”
Set the path
But at the bottom line, the league intends to set a path for young Canadian women to stay in football and find their way into the national team — to nurture future generations so they can one day have can have a golden moment like Sinclair had in 2021 in Tokyo.
“It’s time to change the story and inspire the next group,” Matheson said. “I believe kids need to watch to believe it’s possible. And with the launch of this tournament, kids will be able to go into their own backyard and watch their heroes compete. and dream of one day representing their hometown pro club and being able to represent Canada.”
Sinclair said she was once one of those kids, watching the 1999 World Cup with the dream of one day standing on that pitch.
23 years later, the Burnaby, BC native has accomplished nearly everything she can in her sport.
“We inspired Canadians on the podium,” Sinclair said. “Now is the time to really make an impactful difference in Canada.”