With Olympic gold, Sinclair and Labbé call for professional women's soccer team in Canada
Christine Sinclair and Stephanie Labbé say it's time to pay women to play here
With a penalty kick in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic women's soccer finals, Team Canada won gold — raising hope that professional women's soccer will advance in their home country.
"We need to continue to push to have a professional league in Canada," goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé told Ian Hanomansing, host of Cross Country Checkup and The National.
"The fact that we're Olympic champions and we don't have any professional teams in our home country is pretty unacceptable."
Canada does not have any professional women's soccer teams, but the recently formed Canadian Premiere League is home to eight men's teams. There are also three Canadian men's teams that compete in Major League Soccer, a predominantly U.S. circuit.
Goal to change the sport of soccer in Canada
But with Olympic gold in hand, both Labbé and captain Christine Sinclair say they will continue to push for professional women's teams.
According to Sinclair, "the easiest step" would be to create a few Canadian teams and put them in the National Women's Soccer League, the American league that's backed by both U.S. and Canadian soccer associations.
"In terms of longer-term goals, maybe a Canadian-only professional league."
Canadians from coast to coast watched the women's team take Olympic gold for the first time ever after beating Sweden 3-2 following a six-round penalty shootout.
Excitement on the pitch was palpable, with Sinclair letting out a celebratory scream and team members piling on kicker Julia Grosso who scored the gold-medal-winning shot.
WATCH | Soccer stars Christine Sinclair and Stephanie Labbé speak with Ian Hanomansing:
"We are Olympic champions. It's a moment I never thought I'd experience," Sinclair told Hanomansing.
"Our goal throughout this entire journey has been to change the sport of soccer in Canada, and I think it's time we actually do that."
Inspiring the next generation
Labbé admits that outsiders were doubtful that the Canadian women would top the podium, even if the players themselves have been "fighting for it from the day that we set that goal."
But she believes "anything is possible" for those who have a dream and work to achieve it.
"I hope that we can inspire young girls to really think about that, and I think at the same time, representation is key," she said.
"If we want those girls to continue to be inspired by us, they can't just see us on TV once every four years at a World Cup or an Olympics."
We're the only team in the top 10 in world rankings that doesn't have a professional environment for young girls to aspire to be a part of.- Christine Sinclair, captain of the Canadian national women's soccer team
Canada is ranked eighth in the world in FIFA World Rankings, but there's one major difference between Canada and other top countries.
"We're the only team in the top 10 in world rankings that doesn't have a professional environment for young girls to aspire to be a part of, because only a small few actually make it to the national team," said Sinclair.
"Just because you don't make the national team, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to continue to play the sport you love."
'We all have different journeys'
Thanks to the pandemic, the Tokyo Olympics were unlike any other, something athletes of all stripes have acknowledged.
Labbé says challenges exist regardless of the pressures of the pandemic.
"The pandemic, first and foremost, I think had an effect on all of us in different ways, and coming here to the Olympics is something that we've all pushed and strived to do," she said.
"But once you get here, those challenges and the stresses that we've been through over the past year and a half, they don't just go away."
Labbé says she struggled with fatigue and recovery between matches, and applauded the decision by U.S. gymnast Simone Biles to withdraw from several Olympic events in order to prioritize her well-being.
"She's so courageous and brave to speak out about it and to listen to her body and her mind in terms of what she needs," Labbé said.
"There were some days I had to lock myself in a dark room and avoid all stimulation because it can get really, really hard to continue to manage that.
"We all have different journeys and we all have different experiences."
Written by Jason Vermes with files from Andrea Bellemare, CBC Sports and CBC News. Interview produced by Mikee Mutuc.