Women's soccer is still fighting for equality — on many fronts

CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks at some ways in which the Canadian and U.S. women's soccer teams are trying to close the gap with their male counterparts.

There's the pay gap, and also a merch gap

Olympic hero Steph Labbé has expressed frustration over a lack of marketing around the Canadian women's soccer team. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening in sports by subscribing here.

Women's soccer is more popular than ever — but equality remains elusive

The Tokyo Olympics were filled with memorable performances by Canadians. Andre De Grasse's gold-medal victory in the 200 metres, Damian Warner's historic decathlon win and Penny Oleksiak's becoming Canada's most decorated Olympian, to name a few, all captured the country's attention in their own way. But no moment generated more excitement — or drew more eyeballs — than the women's soccer team's thrilling shootout victory over Sweden in the gold-medal match. It was the most-watched event of the Games in Canada, drawing 4.4 million viewers on TV alone and many more on streaming platforms — pretty remarkable considering it happened on the morning of a workday.

Watching the shootout heroics by fearless goalie Steph Labbé and icy-veined scorers Jessie Fleming, Deanne Rose and Julia Grosso, you could just picture thousands of soccer-playing girls around the country asking their parents for a jersey with the name and number of one of their new heroes on the back. But many fans found those hard to get — at least relative to the big men's pro sports leagues, which always make sure there's an array of championship merch up for sale the moment the final whistle sounds. Yes, you can order a ready-made Christine Sinclair, Kadeisha Buchanan or Ashley Lawrence jersey (or a custom women's shirt with the name and number of your choice) on the Canada Soccer website right now. But they're only available in extra small, suggesting the company that supplies them has been slow to increase its stock to meet the unexpected demand. In contrast, you can buy an Alphonso Davies or other men's national team player's jersey in pretty much any size you want.

Now, the ability to purchase an expensive sweat-wicking top might not seem like a big deal to you. But to some, like Labbé for instance, it's another sign that women's soccer is still fighting for respect — even after Canada's monumental victory in Tokyo. Read more about the merch gap in this story by CBC News' Sonali Karnick.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the most celebrated women's national soccer team in the world is still waging its very public battle for equal pay. The issue resurfaced this week when the U.S. Soccer Federation pronounced that it has offered identical deals to the players' unions for its men's and women's teams. The women's union called this a "publicity stunt." U.S. Soccer insisted the offer is "real, authentic and in good faith" and took a shot at the players for their involvement in the new documentary LFG, about the team's legal battle for equal pay. The federation called the movie "one-sided."

As you can see, emotions continue to run hot as the U.S. women's team's current labour agreement gets set to expire at the end of the year. Meanwhile, the players await a ruling on their appeal of a judge's decision to dismiss their $66-million US lawsuit against U.S. Soccer for, they say, violating the U.S. Equal Pay Act.

If you want to get into the weeds on the lawsuit and the arguments presented by both sides, read this edition of the Buzzer from May 2020. In a nutshell, the U.S. women's team, which has won the last two Women's World Cups and achieved much more success on the field than the mediocre men's squad, wants to be paid the same and receive the same amount of funding for things like coaching, medical treatment and travel. But U.S. Soccer argued, and the judge agreed, that the differences in compensation are the result of choices made by the players in collective bargaining — not discrimination on the part of the federation. The women's team and its supporters counter that those choices (mostly aimed at locking in more guaranteed pay) were only made because of the relative dearth of opportunities available for women to earn good money and benefits playing professional soccer.

Looming over all of this is the disparity in prize money FIFA doles out for the men's and women's World Cups. Largely because the men's tournament commands a lot more cash for broadcast rights and sponsorships, each national federation with a team in the 2018 men's World Cup received $400 million, compared to just $30 million for the 2019 Women's World Cup. However, as the U.S. women's team and its supporters like to point out, there's nothing stopping a federation from divvying up the dough equally. That, of course, would require a massive shift in thinking. And, as we've seen, advancements for women's soccer players tend to happen in baby steps — no matter how much they've earned them.

WATCH | Merchandise gap in women's soccer:

Big demand, small supply for Canadian women’s soccer team gear

1 year ago
Duration 1:50
Canadian women's soccer is thriving and capturing the attention of more Canadians, but fans, and even players, say it's been hard to find jerseys and other merchandise.


The Blue Jays resume their push for the post-season tonight. After taking two of three from American League East leader Tampa Bay, the Jays have won 16 of their last 19 games. But they remain locked in a three-way battle for the two AL wild-card spots with Boston and New York, with only half a game separating the teams. Following a day off yesterday, Toronto can bank a few wins against a bad Minnesota team that's in town for a three-game series starting tonight at 7:07 p.m. ET. The Yankees are hosting so-so Cleveland, while Boston welcomes the atrocious Baltimore Orioles to Fenway Park. If you missed yesterday's newsletter, we covered why the Jays are a legit World Series contender whose results are finally catching up to their underlying quality. Read it here.

Coming up on CBC Sports

Here's what you can live-stream on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem, or watch on the CBC TV network today and this weekend:

Figure Skating: The season is underway with the Skate Canada Autumn Classic Invitational in Quebec. You can stream the pairs free skate today at 3:45 p.m. ET and the women's free at 6:15 p.m. ET. On Saturday, stream the men's free at 11 a.m. ET and the ice dance free at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Show jumping: Stream various competitions within Spruce Meadows' North American tournament today at 4 p.m. ET, Saturday at 12:15 p.m. ET and 3 p.m. ET, and Sunday at 1 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET. Plus, stream a Grand Slam event in Germany on Sunday at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Rugby sevens: Due to the pandemic, the entire 2021 World Rugby Sevens Series will consist of just two stops: in Vancouver this weekend and in Edmonton next weekend. The Vancouver event includes a 12-team men's tournament and a four-team women's tournament. Canada has a team in both. Read a full preview here and stream live matches Saturday from noon-8 p.m. ET and Sunday from noon-6:30 p.m. ET.

Triathlon: Stream the Super League event in Great Britain on Saturday at 6:30 a.m. ET.

Track and field: Stream the World Athletics Continental Tour event in Kenya on Saturday at 9 a.m. ET.

Road to the Olympic Games: Saturday's show features the CP International show jumping competition at Spruce Meadows, followed by the World Rugby Sevens Series event in Vancouver. Watch it on the CBC TV network or stream it from 2-6 p.m. ET. Sunday's show features rugby sevens. Watch it on CBC TV from 3-4 p.m. in your local time or stream it from 2-3 p.m. ET.

You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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