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Canada's new Olympic champions call for more support for women's soccer at home

After its historic gold-medal win at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Friday, Canada's national team is calling for more support for women's soccer in the country.

'If a gold medal doesn't change some things in our country, nothing's going to,' Christine Sinclair says

The Canada women’s national soccer team poses with their gold medals after beating Sweden at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. (Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)

After Team Canada made history Friday by beating Sweden and winning the Olympic gold medal in women's soccer, thoughts turned from their long climb to the top of the podium to the future of the women's game in Canada.

It's a win that the 22 players from across the country — nine of them from the Greater Toronto Area  — hope will lead to a much bigger investment in the beautiful game here at home.

For 21 years, the torch was carried by Christine Sinclair, the all-time leading scorer in the women's game with 187 goals in 304 games. After finally winning gold in Japan, the 38-year-old striker said it's "now or never" for Canada to invest in women's soccer.

"I've been on the podium twice before and nothing changed. If a gold medal doesn't change some things in our country, nothing's going to," Sinclair said.

"My plea is for Canada to fully support this team and it's time we get a professional league or some professional teams."

There are no professional women's soccer leagues in Canada. For men, there is the newly-formed Canadian Premier League with eight teams, and three teams from Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver compete in Major League Soccer (MLS) — a predominantly U.S. circuit.

Sinclair and many of her national teammates play in the American National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), which has no Canadian teams. A select few Canadian women footballers also play in Europe.

"It's remarkable what we've achieved considering there's no [women's] professional league in Canada," said Jessie Fleming, who slotted the winning penalty kick against the U. S. in the semi-final, tied the gold medal game from the penalty spot, and scored in the deciding shootout against the Swedes. 

"Moving forward, it should be positive for Canadian soccer. We've set the bar pretty high for ourselves," Fleming said.

Nine of the 22 players in the Canada women’s national soccer team hail from the Greater Toronto Area. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

9 players from the GTA

"Hopefully, we'll get some infrastructure to support that, and keep performing well in big tournaments," she added.

Despite no obvious career path, these footballers were driven and motivated to succeed.

The nine players from the GTA are Oshawa's Allysha Chapman, Brampton's Kadeisha Buchanan, Toronto's Quinn, Caledon's Ashley Lawrence, Ajax's Nichelle Prince, Alliston's Deanne Rose, Pickering's Jayde Riviere, Mississauga and Maple's Adriana Leon, and Whitby's Kailen Sheridan.

During the gold-medal match, Buchanan and Lawrence's family and friends cheered them on at a watch party in Caledon, Ont.

Their mothers, in particular, were overjoyed.

"I'm so proud of her," Tina Lawrence said. 

"I think it was the 2012 Olympics that inspired her, and she always wanted to play for Canada, and here we are today full circle with a gold medal," she added.

About all those kids who now look up to Ashley, Lawrence said her daughter has become "an example of what they can be."

Inspiration for young soccer players

"These young girls are going to push for it, because now they know they can do it," Buchanan's mother Melsadie said. "No matter who you are, where you're from, they know they can do it."

"This is a lesson learned; everyone has heard Kadeisha's story. Once you put your heart to it, you can do it, and they all did it today," she added.

Sweden's Kosovare Asllani, left, and Canada's Kadeisha Buchanan battle for the ball during the women's final soccer match at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Yokohama, Japan. (Kiichiro Sato/The Associated Press)

The pair were coached by soccer coach Cyprian McFarlane back when they started out in Peel as kids. He too was watching at the outdoor party in Caledon. He called the win a "game changer" showing the world that Canada has plenty of talent.

"I knew these girls had talent I'd never seen before, and it continues to show to this day," he said.

"I think for young girls coming up aspiring to be soccer players, this shows it's a viable profession, that these things are possible."

Coach Bev Priestman on gold: 'Young girls, young boys, they don't have to dream anymore'

4 months ago
1:15
Priestman discusses the impact that the women's gold medal will have on Canadian youth. 1:15

The team's manager, Bev Priestman said she felt "privileged" to be part of the historic win.

"This is a major moment that could change the face of Canadian soccer," she said.

Sinclair, arguably one of the best football players in the world, said her advice to young girls is to "dream big" as the team showed them that anything is possible.

"Hopefully, we inspired some of them."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ali Raza is a journalist at CBC News Toronto and CBC Radio. Born and raised in Brampton, Ontario, Ali has worked in community newsrooms across the Greater Toronto Area covering politics, crime, breaking news, and more. Have a news tip? Send it over to ali.raza@cbc.ca

With files from Greg Ross

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