Jun 27, 2023, 04:30 AM ET
Squads are convening, warm-up games are kicking off and players will soon be boarding flights to Australia and New Zealand with less than a month until the 2023 Women’s World Cup starts in Auckland. Yet with time ticking down to the opening game on July 20, at least two participating nations are still locked in significant disputes with their federations.
Much was made of Canada’s threat to strike ahead of the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year, with the Olympic champions at an impasse with Canada Soccer that forced an overhaul behind the scenes and a lengthy mediation. The dispute didn’t solely hinge on direct remuneration, but the financial side of the row continues to be the sticking point months later. As Christine Sinclair, Canada’s 40-year-old captain and all-time-leading goal scorer, told the Canadian Press earlier this week, “We’re not at a point where we’re not getting on a plane, but time’s coming where we want it done so as players we’re not having to deal with it while we’re trying to prepare.”
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That plane in question departs for the World Cup on June 28, forcing a greater sense of urgency, though there is a question of what happens should a deal, or a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), still not be in place. As things stand, the team will likely need to accept a shorter-term deal that will cover them for the duration of the World Cup as well as the remainder of 2023.
It’s nothing new for Canada Women: The team haven’t had a proper deal in place since the last CBA expired at the end of 2021. There is, however, a sense of optimism from the Canadian camp that something could be brokered sooner rather than later, as interim general secretary Jason deVos said in a statement on Wednesday, “Our conversations are ongoing and we share the desire to get this resolved as soon as possible.”
The situation isn’t new, but it has rumbled on in the background for Canada’s men’s and women’s sides; both teams are unhappy at a lack of funding to the point that bankruptcy has been mentioned by DeVos, although the players seem to believe progress is being made and that the women can have a deal in place before the World Cup kicks off.
Players from Canada (red) and Jamaica (yellow) greet each other after their 2022 Concacaf Women’s Championship football match in Mexico in July 2022. JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AFP via Getty Images
The story is a different one further south in Concacaf, however, with the Jamaica women’s national team once again at odds with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF.)
Given a new lease of life with the advent of the Reggae Girlz Foundation and the influence of Cedella Marley, Jamaica have gone from strength to strength on the pitch over the past few years after missing out on qualification for the 2015 World Cup. Yet despite the successes of the team, the players have repeatedly been failed by the JFF and just two months after returning home from their maiden World Cup, the Reggae Girlz were in a dispute over missed World Cup payments.
Like so many soccer teams around the world, the problems persist in the background and don’t come to the fore until players feel empowered — or feel like they have no other choice — to speak out about their struggles. Which is why, with just over a month until the 2023 World Cup, Jamaica’s players took to social media to speak out about their frustrations with their federation:
“On multiple occasions, we have sat down with the federation to respectfully address concerns resulting from subpar planning, transportation, accommodations, training conditions, compensation, communication, nutrition, and accessibility to proper resources. We have also showed up repeatedly without receiving contractually agreed upon compensation.”
The crux of the issues stem from funding — mainly to ensure proper planning and sufficient support staff for the team — but there is a sense of familiar apathy, too, as the women are treated as an afterthought to the Reggae Boyz. The female players have spoken of the “extreme disorganisation of camp logistics” that have resulted in missed friendlies, while they have been unsure when to report for camp on the eve of matches.
The team, ranked 43rd in the world by FIFA, are being forced to rely on handouts and the kindness of strangers with Sandra Brower — the mother of forward Havana Solaun — opting to set up a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the costs of further World Cup expenses for the staff and players. Although the target of $100,000 hasn’t been met, a surge of donations saw a further $20,000 raised over the past week, which is as heartwarming as it is depressing. However, it’s not the only fundraiser for the Reggae Girlz, with the Reggae Girlz Foundation running its own campaign to raise money for the preparation camp, which would cover costs from venue and facilities rentals all the way down to meals for the players.
In response to the collective statement from the players, the JFF put out its own statement, saying: “We acknowledge that things have not been done perfectly, and we are working assiduously to resolve them.” Yet the sense is that the issues raised by the players are chronic, while the general reaction from the JFF is that the displeasure of the players has come out of the blue.
The worry for both Canada and Jamaica isn’t just the state of play and problems behind the scenes, but how they could cause a distraction and stop the players performing at their best on the biggest stage. The World Cup should be a place for complete focus; instead, once again, several teams are being forced to deal with much more than what happens on the pitch.