Christine Sinclair reviews her distinguished soccer career and lays down 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 domestic governing body, to ensure an equal playing field for women. That includes establishing a women’s domestic pro league so the Canadian women don’t get passed by other countries.
“In Canada we assume that we will be fine,” Sinclair writes. “We assume that because we’ve been good at this, we will carry on being good. 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.”
There has been movement since the book was finished earlier this year, the 39-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., said in an interview.
“Progress has been made in terms of contract stuff and equal pay. Obviously we’re still not closer to a (women’s) league. But they have started to address some things,” she said.
The Canadian men’s and women’s teams are in the process of negotiating new deals with Canada Soccer with pay equity a central plank in the talks.
“I think it will get done quickly, especially with the men’s World Cup just around the corner,” she said.
While that is good news, Sinclair shakes her head at past missteps. She pointed to recent news that Canada Soccer had struck an images/likeness rights deal with Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies.
“It’s just one of those like little jabs that they told us ‘It wasn’t possible. It wasn’t possible,’” she said. “And then (with) Alphonso, it is possible. We’ve been fighting that battle for 10 years and it’s taken Alphonso to pretty much deny them the ability to sell his name.
“It’s just one of those instances where, yeah, this could have been sorted 10 years ago but they told the women’s team it wasn’t possible and now they’re changing their tune.”
Canada Soccer has only recently started to improve travel conditions for the women, she said, and has agreed to make that part of the new contract.
“In previous years we would find out that the men were travelling business class. I flat out in a meeting with (Canada Soccer president) Nick (Bontis) said ‘Not once I have travelled 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’s taken the men’s success for them to start to change how they’re treating the women’s team, which is sad.”
Sinclair, the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 190, said the process of writing the book with Stephen Brunt was akin to therapy at times.
“It was painful at times. But I’m thankful for doing it,” she said. “Because there’s just certain things I haven’t thought about in years — certain tournaments and games and memories that Stephen obviously helped pry into. I’m grateful for that because I feel like as athletes we’re so focused on the next game and the next tournament that we don’t sometimes look back.
“And it’s been quite the journey.”
“Playing the Game” is an easy read, focused primarily on her career with Canada. She dishes on all her national team coaches, from Even Pellerud and Carolina Morace to John Herdman, Kenneth Heiner-Moller and Bev Priestman.
She is complimentary towards all, even finding something positive to say about Morace, the Italian coach under whom the Canadian women finished last at a disastrous 2011 World Cup in Germany.
Morace “created real soccer players out of a group who, under Even, just booted the ball and chased it,” she wrote.
But Morace’s decision to move the team to residency in Italy backfired and the tournament soon showed the Canadian women had no Plan B 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 plenty of kudos, from bringing her into the senior team to advocating for the women within Canada Soccer and moving the program forward.
She saves her biggest praise for Herdman, now coach of the men’s team, 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 riveting, perhaps even more than the gold-medal showing in Tokyo.
Heiner-Moller was a soccer brain whose preferred playing style proved to be not a good fit. “One of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever met,” she writes.
Priestman, she says, understands the team’s strengths and lets it play to them.
Sinclair also reveals her “love-hate relationship” with the U.S. national team. She has plenty of respect for what the U.S. women have done on and off the field, but notes they come with a lot of attitude.
“They’re obviously the best team in the world and they know it,” she said with a laugh.
Those hoping to a peek inside Sinclair’s personal life in the book will be disappointed, While Sinclair, a notoriously private person, opens up about her family, she steers clear when it comes to the rest of her life away from the pitch.
“As far as I’m concerned, what people see of me on the pitch should be enough,” she writes.
It’s been a hectic, albeit productive, time for Sinclair of late.
She helped the Portland Thorns win the NWSL championship on Oct. 29 with a 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Current. On Nov. 1, the same day as her book release, the Portland Thorns announced Sinclair would be back for an 11th season in 2023.
After a whirlwind of book appearances, she left Toronto on Sunday for Brazil where the seventh-ranked Canadian women are playing a pair of international friendlies Nov. 11 and 15 against the ninth-ranked Brazilians in Santos and Sao Paulo, respectively.
“Playing the Long Game’ by Christine Sinclair with Stephen Brunt. Random House Canada, 235 pages, $34.
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press