Women’s football in Canada | “Women are not against men”

“People who say there’s no interest in women’s sports, I think it’s too old to think that way. Ryan Wilkinson confirms it herself.


Jean Francois Teutonio

Jean Francois Teutonio
Journalism

Pointe Claire’s pride has been, since the end of November, manager of the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), “one of the most famous women’s teams in the world”. She was hired, after a rigorous process, by CEO, Karina LeBlanc, her friend and former colleague in Canada.

“There are 20,000 people per game here,” the 39-year-old adds. She is sitting in her office in front of a board softly drawn on which is a beautiful rose, the picture of her club, hanging on a football field. his conversation Zoom with Journalism It takes place entirely in French.

In Canada, the Canadian team’s gold medal win at the Tokyo Olympics saw 4.4 million spectators. The most watched event of the two weeks was here.

So there is no shortage of interest. How then can we explain the fact that Canada, with its Olympic champions and concrete proof that the sport has achieved good ratings in the country, does not yet have a women’s professional soccer league?

According to Ryan Wilkinson, there is an issue of habit to consider.

The man who won two bronze medals with Canada, in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, explains: “We often only see the men’s teams on TV. We understand that we don’t see anything else.”

In the United States, the NWSL will have 12 teams in 2022. Only 4 of the 28 clubs have an element in the Women’s Division I: Wilkinson Thorns, in particular, are associated with the Portland Timbers.

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North of the border, the men own the Canadian Premier League (CPL), as well as three teams in the MLS. Why aren’t more clubs in North America experimenting with the adventure of high-performance women’s soccer?

Photo from the Twitter account of the Portland Thorns

Ryan Wilkinson and Karina LeBlanc, general manager of The Portland Thorns, at a press conference on November 30

“There’s a difference it’s about resources for her, and other teams it’s about will,” Wilkinson said. It’s the same in Canada. It is not that every member of the Canadian Football Association does not want women to play. I guess there are one or two who don’t care. But for others, it will take a lot of resources. ”

“start again”

Like many players on the field, she did not welcome with great enthusiasm the announcement of the Women’s Premier League, which was announced on December 7 to “answer the call” of one of Canada’s professional leagues. The problem is that for now, it’s just going to be a semi-professional circuit with the goal of “establishing the foundations” of the professional league. The latter will not see the light of day for two to five years.

“Before that, we had a W League, Wilkinson recalls. It was the same thing, and they just took it apart. We go back with something that was already there, 20 years ago, but it’s gone. It’s frustrating.”

Our women just won the gold! She says, upset but smiling, a few moments later.

What is the healthy development of Canada if we exclude semi-professionals as the first path? Especially since there are already semi-professional teams at the provincial level, in Quebec and Ontario in particular. Will the NWSL team in Canada be off to a good start?

But the American Colleges Network is not accessible to everyone. Ryan Wilkinson talks about “wealth at birth” or the privilege of those who go there. “This is how we are developing our players at the moment: with luck.”

She also wants to make an important clarification.

“All the Canadian players I know support men. It’s not women against men! It’s understandable that women don’t have the same opportunities. It’s really exciting what they’re doing in men’s sport with the national team now.”

“There is nothing for me in Canada”

A proud Canadian, Ryan Wilkinson knows there is no place for her professionally in her home country.

“I am in the States, and I would love to have this opportunity. I also love the fact that I am Canadian! But I don’t have a second hand in Canada. There is nothing for me. There is nothing for athletes who want to continue in this sport.”

Prior to Thorns, Wilkinson had worked with the British team at the Tokyo Games, on a six-month contract. Until January 2021, she was the assistant coach of Biff Priestman, Canada coach.

PHOTO PHILIPPE BOIVIN, archive a special collaboration

Canada coach Bev Priestman during training at Saputo Stadium last October

“Bev Priestman, what you did is great, but she is from England. There is only one publication in Canada, and it is owned by an English woman.”

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Don’t read this as dissatisfaction.

“Maybe we’re not ready,” she said. This is normal, our coaches should have experience. This is what we started doing. ”

But how can you give the female coaches experience if there is no place in the men’s game? […] And that there is no women’s team? What can we do ?

Ryan Wilkinson

She adds, “I want to be very clear. I think John Herdman [sélectionneur de l’équipe masculine]And Bev Priestman and our most junior coaches are doing an amazing job with our talent in Canada. […] I’m afraid for Biff Priestman and what she has to work with. It really isn’t much. ”

She speaks because she knows the message has to come from outside.

“It’s up to me and the retired players to say the hard things, because Biff can’t say that.”

The rest of the interview with Ryan Wilkinson will be published on Tuesday.

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