Canadian Soccer Players Form Union To Fight For Fair Wages

The country’s first union for female athletes wants to prevent stars from living with their parents

Image via Flickr user shot7photos

As the U.S. women’s national soccer team continues its battle for fair pay, its rivals north of the border just took a major step toward securing proper compensation of their own. In a meeting in Toronto on Thursday, Canada’s top players officially created the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team Players’ Association. It is believed to be the country’s first union for female athletes.

“We want it to be more stable for younger kids coming up, so they know they can earn a living-wage through soccer,” Diana Matheson, a midfielder who played for Canada’s last three Olympic teams, told the Toronto Star. “Hopefully, they don’t still have to go live with their parents into their 30s like some of us have had to do.”

The Canadian Soccer Association, which has denied the existence of a pay disparity between the men’s and women’s national teams, pays the salaries of players who compete in the professional National Women’s Soccer League—reportedly between $7,200 and $39,700 per season. The CSA claims these salaries also cover players’ appearances for the women’s national team. Meanwhile, members of the men’s national team are paid per appearance, supplementing their professional team wages.

The formation of the union in Canada follows the complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by five U.S. players earlier this year, charging the U.S. Soccer Federation with wage discrimination. For appearing in “friendly” matches—otherwise known as exhibitions—U.S. women’s team players are paid only for wins, while men’s team players are paid substantially more, regardless of match results. Men’s team players are also paid for every World Cup appearance, while women’s team players are only awarded bonuses for finishing in fourth place or better.

“We feel like we’re treated like second-class citizens because they don’t care as much about us as they do the men,” midfielder Carli Lloyd, the 2015 FIFA Player of the Year, told 60 Minutes last month.

The U.S. team met with U.S. Soccer in October to renegotiate the collective bargaining agreement, but the two sides have failed to find common ground. The 60 Minutes piece also reported the EEOC has expanded its investigation beyond salary concerns, which will further delay a decision from the federal agency. However, the legal maneuvering has been successful in publicizing previously private information about national team wages.

The Canadian Soccer Association has been more tight-lipped about compensation differences between men and women. Until now, Canada’s women’s national team has negotiated for wages on an ad hoc basis, led by veterans on the squad, including goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who plays professionally for FC Rosengard in Sweden. The union opens new possibilities for leverage and legal action.

“I’ve never been driven by the money,” McLeod told the Toronto Star. “But, sometimes, it’s almost like I have to close my eyes to it or else I’ll be bitter. There’s definitely big differences.”