Canada captain Christine Sinclair challenges Canada Soccer to appear in new memoir

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FILE – Canada’s Christine Sinclair reacts during a CONCACAF women’s championship semifinal match against Jamaica in Monterrey, Mexico Thursday, July 14, 2022. Sinclair has played for the Portland Thorns since 2013, at the start of the National Women’s Soccer League. Now the Thorns are gearing up for Saturday’s NWSL championship game in Washington DC against the Kansas City Current in a match that will be televised in prime time on CBS. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, file)

Christine Sinclair takes a look back at her remarkable football career and offers a challenge for the future in her new memoir, Playing the Long Game.

The Canada captain says it’s high time for Canada Soccer, the sport’s national governing body, to ensure a level playing field for women. This includes establishing a national professional league for women so that Canadian women are not overtaken by other countries.

“In Canada, we expect to be fine,” writes Sinclair. “We assume that because we were good at it, we will continue to be good at it. My fear is that we will soon be surpassed by countries that support their youth programs, support their national women’s teams and also support professional women’s leagues.”

Things have been moving since the book was completed earlier this year, the 39-year-old from Burnaby, BC, said in an interview.

“Progress has been made in terms of contracts and equal pay. Obviously we haven’t come any closer to a (women’s) league. But they’ve started to address some things,” she said.

Canada’s men’s and women’s teams are in the process of negotiating new contracts with Canada Soccer, with pay equity a key element of the talks.

“I think it will be done quickly, especially with the Men’s World Cup coming up,” she said.

While that’s good news, Sinclair shakes his head at past missteps. She pointed to recent news that Canada Soccer have signed a picture/likeness rights deal with Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies.

“It’s just one of those little bumps where they said to us, ‘It couldn’t be done. It wasn’t possible,'” she said. “And then (with) Alphonso it’s possible. We’ve been fighting this battle for 10 years and it has cost Alphonso to deny them the ability to sell his name.

“It’s just one of those cases where, yes, that could have been resolved 10 years ago, but they told the women’s team it couldn’t be done and now they’re changing their mindset.”

Canada Soccer has only recently begun to improve travel conditions for women, she said, and has agreed to include this in the new contract.

“In previous years we found out that the men traveled in business class. When I met Nick (Bontis, President of Canada Soccer) I said, “I’ve never traveled business class with this national team.” And that was earlier this year. But things have changed, so I have to give them a little credit.

“But once again we were treated differently for 10, 12 years. And it took the men’s success for them to start changing the way they treat the women’s team, which is sad.”

Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading scorer with 190 goals, said the process of writing the book with Stephen Brunt was like therapy at times.

“It was painful at times. But I’m grateful for that,” she said. “Because there are certain things I haven’t thought about in years – certain tournaments and games and memories that Stephen obviously helped into. I’m grateful for that because I feel like we as athletes are so focused on the next game and tournament that sometimes we don’t look back.

“And it’s been quite a long journey.”

Playing the Game is easy to read and mostly focuses on her career with Canada. She addresses all of her national team’s coaches, from Even Pellerud and Carolina Morace to John Herdman, Kenneth Heiner-Moller and Bev Priestman.

She praises everyone and even finds something positive about Morace, the Italian coach under whom the Canadian women finished last in a disastrous 2011 World Cup in Germany.

Morace “created real football players from a group that, under Even, would just launch and chase the ball,” she wrote.

But Morace’s decision to move the team to Italy backfired and the tournament soon showed that the Canadian women didn’t have a backup plan when it came to strategy. Sinclair, who broke her nose at that World Cup, said the distance between players and staff grew as the tournament progressed.

She gives Pellerud a lot of credit, from getting her senior squad to supporting the women’s team at Canada Soccer and helping the program evolve.

She saves her highest praise for Herdman, who is now the men’s team coach, calling him “the best coach I’ve ever had, hands down. He is life changing.”

Sinclair’s memories of Canada’s bronze medal run at the London Olympics are compelling, perhaps even more so than the gold medal in Tokyo.

Heiner-Möller was a football brain whose preferred style of play turned out to be inappropriate. “One of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever met,” she writes.

Priestman, she says, understands the team’s strengths and lets them play in her favor.

Sinclair also reveals her “love-hate relationship” with the US national team. She has great respect for what US women have accomplished on and off the field, but notes they bring a lot of attitude.

“They’re obviously the best team in the world and they know it,” she said, laughing.

Those hoping for a glimpse into Sinclair’s private life will be disappointed. While Sinclair, a notoriously private person, opens up about her family, she keeps a low profile when it comes to the rest of her life off the field.

“As far as I’m concerned, what people see of me on the pitch should be enough,” she writes.

It’s been a hectic, if productive, time for Sinclair lately.

She helped the Portland Thorns win the NWSL Championship on October 29 with a 2-0 win over Kansas City Current. On November 1, the same day as their book release, the Portland Thorns announced that Sinclair would be returning for an 11th season in 2023.

After a whirlwind of book appearances, she left Toronto on Sunday for Brazil, where the seventh-placed Canadian women will play two international friendlies against ninth-placed Brazil on November 11 and 15 in Santos and Sao Paulo respectively.

Christine Sinclair’s “Playing the Long Game” starring Stephen Brunt. Random House Canada, 235 pages, $34.

– Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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