TORONTO — The Canadian women's soccer team will enter into its next round of contract negotiations with the Canadian Soccer Association with an impressive hand.
The first Canadian summer sports team to win back-to-back Olympic medals in more than 100 years after defeating three top-five teams at the Rio Games. Ranked fourth in the world. Algarve Cup champion. The most wins by any Canadian women's soccer team in a calendar year (15).
And the team is standing united via a newly formed player association. While not a formal union, the players hope it will help their cause and that of the women who will follow.
The Canadian Women's National Soccer Team Players' Association was created by a player vote last Thursday with captain Christine Sinclair, Diana Matheson, Erin McLeod and Ashley Lawrence chosen as player representatives for the next two years.
The four have 602 caps between them with veterans Sinclair, Matheson and McLeod accounting for all but 46.
The four player reps are authorized to speak for the membership.
"Personally for me and for the older players, it's a big milestone," said the 32-year-old Matheson who made her senior debut for Canada in March 2003. "I think it was kind of a natural progression for us to get to this point but it took a lot of work ... So this is just the next step to allow us to be more organized, to have a united front, to be able to represent all the players in the program whether they're in NCAA or they're in the NWSL or in Europe."
For Matheson, the most important round of negotiations is not the next one but the ones that follow.
"A really important part for us too is that this structure will be in place for the next generation and that when the group that's been taking care of these issues for a while retires, the ball won't be dropped at all," she said. "It will be hopefully a seamless transition so that the next players can keep pushing things forward as well."
Previously negotiations with the CSA were more ad-hoc. The women used lawyers Maureen Littlejohn and Jim Bunting as their legal help for negotiations with a "group of core women" on the team leading the way.
"The difference now, of course, is that we have a formal structure in place that will allow the formal leadership of the women's team to speak on behalf of the women's team and to negotiate on behalf of the women's team," said Littlejohn, who with Bunting continues to represent the players on a pro bono basis.
The Canadian women say they have a good relationship with the Canadian Soccer Association. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, who have filed a federal complaint accusing U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination, Matheson says the Canadians are comparing themselves to other women's teams around the world and other sports in Canada.
The women are due to enter negotiations with the CSA in "the coming weeks," according to Littlejohn.
"I think that the negotiation of compensation with the women has come a long way with Canada Soccer over the last few years," said Littlejohn. "We've developed a good working relationship with them. And this was just intended to be the next step in ensuring that that structure and that fairness continues going forward."
The CSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Littlejohn said the CSA had offered congratulations on the formation of the association and was looking forward to continuing "to advance women's soccer in Canada."
Most of the top Canadian women are currently allocated to NWSL teams in the U.S. with the CSA providing the money for their salaries, as the U.S. and Mexican federations do for their star players.
The Canadian women are also compensated for their national year duties via a contract up for renegotiation.
Matheson, who at times has lived with her parents in Oakville, Ont., to save costs, has experienced living on just carded money as well as earning a salary as pro.
"My generation of player, we were kind of the first where we could make a living out of it but it wasn't the most amazing salary you were getting," she said.
Littlejohn and Bunting helped the women form the association. They drafted bylaws and a constitution, 20 women formally applied for membership, then formally adopted approved the framework and chose their leaders.
Under the bylaws, any player who has been a member of the senior national team since June 1, 1999, or who has been called into a training session is eligible for membership.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press