By ANNE M. PETERSON
AP Sports Writer
The Canadian Women’s national team said Saturday night that players would return to team activities after Canada Soccer threatened legal action because of their protest over cuts to the women’s program.
Players did not practice earlier Saturday in preparation for this week’s SheBelieves Cup game against the rival U.S. national team in Florida, after announcing a day earlier: “The time is now, we are taking job action.”
Representatives and legal counsel for Canada Soccer met Saturday with the team.
“Prior to that meeting, Canada Soccer told us that they consider our job action to be an unlawful strike,” the team said in a statement released Saturday night.
Players claimed Soccer Canada threatened to “not only take legal action to force us back to the pitch but would consider taking steps to collect what could be millions of dollars in damages from our players association and from each of the individual players currently in camp” if they did not commit to playing in the tournament.
“As individual players who have received no compensation yet for any of our work for Canada Soccer in 2022, we cannot afford the risks that personal action against us by Canada Soccer will create,” the statement said. “Because of this, we have advised Canada Soccer that we will return to training tomorrow and will play in the SheBelieves Cup as scheduled.”
Canada Soccer said in a statement it respects the team’s right to organize, but said the players were not in a “legal strike position” under Ontario labor laws.
“Canada Soccer was not prepared to jeopardize the SheBelieves Cup tournament, the preparation it would afford the women’s national team for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, nor the experience it would afford countless fans who had undoubtedly traveled to Orlando to see their national team heroes,” the statement said. “Canada Soccer therefore took the necessary steps to ensure that such games will be played as scheduled.”
Canada’s women won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics and qualified last summer for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, starting on July 20.
Canada was scheduled to play its opening SheBelieves Cup match against the United States on Thursday at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium. Japan and Brazil are also playing in the round-robin tournament that will visit three U.S. cities.
Team captain Christine Sinclair and teammate Janine Beckie told Canadian television network TSN on Friday that players did not intend to participate in “any Canadian soccer association activities until this is resolved.”
The players claim they’ve had to cut training camp days and full camp windows, and cut the number of players and staff invited into camps. They’ve been told there will be no home games scheduled before the World Cup.
Canada’s players — both the men and women — are in the midst of talks with Canada Soccer for a new collective bargaining agreement. The women are seeking equal pay to the men.
Canada’s men’s team issued a statement Friday of support for the women.
“Canada Soccer has committed to negotiating a comprehensive collective agreement with both of the player associations of the women’s and men’s national teams,” the federation said in its statement Saturday night. “That agreement, once concluded, will be an historic deal that will deliver real change and pay equity in Canada Soccer. It is a goal worth getting right.”
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