Earlier this week I read an article by Duane Rollins on a blog called the 24th minute that spoke about an interview that he had with Bob Lenarduzzi on a radio show called “It’s Called Football.” The article was about how the Whitecaps are not interested in joining the WPS. For those that are interested in reading the full article click here
According to Rollins, Lenarduzzi’s reasons as to why the Whitecaps had no desire to join WPS included 1) the fact that the league was so spread out, thus making it “financially crippling” 2) how “it needs to be a semi-pro league, and it needs to be a league that understands it is very early times for the sport” and 3) “just to provide that highest level of the sport, but don’t worry about professionalizing it.”
Rollins, haughtily ended his article with “if one of the most committed organizations to the women’s game is rejecting the WPS model as it currently stands, well that should tell you something. As we wrote Sunday, its time for women’s soccer to get real and get down to the hard work of growing the sport from the ground up. There are no shortcuts to getting a stable and fully professional league.”
I had to take a deep breath after reading this article, because after experiencing the Whitecaps as a player over the course of the last decade, I believe groups like them are part of what is holding back the growth of women’s professional soccer in North America. To have a journalist such as Duane Rollins with obviously such little knowledge about women’s soccer, lecturing us about trying to take “shortcuts” and asserting what its going to take for women’s soccer to grow, using Lenarduzzi as an expert on the subject, is nothing short of laughable.
First let me take Rollins’ assertion that the Whitecaps are one of the most committed organizations in the women’s game (and hence their authority on the question of if women’s professional soccer is a viable option).
I have played for the Whitecaps for 4 seasons, in the last decade: 2002, 2005, in 2006, when we won the W League Championship, and this past season in 2011. Through the other years I have been overseas playing in the top leagues in Norway and Denmark for six seasons, medaling in both leagues, including a Champion’s League silver with Fortuna Hjorring in 2003.
Part of why I played for the Whitecaps, besides being my hometown team, was that when I was younger, I had aspirations of playing for the Canadian team. The Whitecaps have always trumpeted their connection with the National Team, starting from when in 2006 Greg Kerfoot, one of the owners, heavily invested in the Canadian team in the lead up to the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics. When players were making decisions when getting recruited for various W League teams, we were always told by Whitecaps staff that playing for the Whitecaps would give us an advantage to making the Canadian team. This was still the case in 2011.
This set up in general, always felt completely inappropriate, a massive conflict of interest and hurt the growth of other W League teams in Canada with all the talent flocking to one team.
This connection with the National Team, also caused a power shift that left little power in the hands of players. In my time with the Whitecaps there were problems that surfaced in multiple years in various aspects of the organization that were not addressed because of this perceived connection with the National Team. These serious issues were swept under the rug by the organization because there was always the fear that in speaking out that National Team aspirations would be affected, and in some cases they were.
Because of this perceived or real connection that the Whitecaps had with the National Team, the teams I played with in 2005 and 2006 consisted of the majority of the Canadian National Team. Our teams included names such as Andrea Neil, Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, and Kara Lang, amongst many, many other familiar names to Canadian women’s soccer fans.
With the result, we were covered a great deal in the media. Playing all of our games at Swangard Stadium, we built a solid fan base, and started attracting regularly over 2000 people to our games and sometimes upwards of 4000 people. At one point, our average attendance for our games in 2005, would have been ranked 4th on the average attendance for the Men’s A League, in which the Whitecaps men played in. As a female player, I was exhilarated, as I felt that it finally proved that if the women were treated equally from a marketing perspective, and had competent people running the team, that there really was a market for women’s soccer.
At that point however, none of the team, who for the most part were done college and financially on their own, received a penny from the Whitecaps. In addition to our training, we were also promoting the team in various capacities for free, going out to schools, and running evening clinics as examples. Feeling stressed out about money, and seeing that we were starting to attract crowds as a team, we started getting frustrated as a group with the fact that we were getting no money. With friends on the men’s team, we came to find out that their bench players were making $1500 a month.
About mid-way through the season we became fed up and started organizing to take action to receive some kind of funding from the organization. We had planned a meeting for a Monday night at Boston Pizza after practice to figure out what we were going to do.
That Monday night, when we arrived at practice, Bob Lenarduzzi, the president of the club was there, immediately making everyone uneasy, as it was his first appearance that year. The timing seemed too coincidental with our planned meeting that night, and we waited to hear what he had to say. He told us that the club was very happy with our efforts, and because of this, they had decided that we would be divided into 3 tiers, and would receive either $425, $300 or $125 a month for the 2 remaining months of the season, depending on our status as players. Needless to say, our meeting at Boston Pizza later that night was subdued, as players wondered how the organization had found out, and people began to worry about ramifications on their National Team careers, if they were identified as troublemakers. After the Boston Pizza meeting, little else was done to address the financial discrepancies.
Both our team and the men’s team had friendlies towards the end of that season, and while the men’s match against Sunderland was advertised heavily on busses and in ads on the newspaper and radio, our game against the reigning WUSA champion Washington Freedom was non-existent. The crowd at our game was less than 2,000, relative to the 6,000 that the men had for their game, with the pre-game advertising definitely playing a role in such a large discrepancy.
I remember distinctly at that point feeling that if women’s soccer were to have a chance to make it, that it needed people that wanted it to get there. I also got the disturbing feeling that there were people out there who didn’t want the demands that would come with the women’s side getting too successful or taking away focus from the men.
Fast forward to this season and I decided to give things with the Whitecaps another chance as I was home for the summer of 2011. To be short and sweet, it saddened me as things have moved backwards. While the words of the Whitecaps trumpet their commitment to the women’s program, their actions are completely different on the inside.
There were many different examples to me in 2011, of this hypocrisy in the Whitecaps “commitment to the women’s game”. I will give one situation from this past season that illustrated why I really fear for the next generation of girls and their possibilities of a league, if people like Duane Rollins continue to perpetuate the false notion that groups such as the Whitecaps should be held up for their commitment to growing the women’s game.
Every year we are required to do free clinics for the Whitecaps essentially to promote the organizations summer camps as well as the games on both the men’s and women’s side. In past seasons it has been mandatory for both the men’s and women’s teams to volunteer for 2 or 3 clinics.
At the beginning of the season, a friend of mine that works for the organization made the comment to me that the girls would be doing a lot more of the free clinics, as per MLS rules, the men’s teams have to get paid $300 per appearance. With the result, some female players had to spend upwards of seven evenings spending their own gas money to run these clinics to promote the Whitecaps because it was a lot cheaper (free v $300) than getting the men’s players to do their share. While older players such as myself were unafraid to say no when it got to be too much, younger players, afraid to say no, were often the ones who were targeted. Some would have to give up an evening of paid work to attend these Whitecaps clinics for free.
In one case we received an email saying on a Thursday night that there would be 2 groups of women’s players going to Vancouver Island on a Saturday or Sunday for what essentially, with travel, would be ten hours of volunteering for the organization. My roommate came home the Saturday night incensed. She, as a few other girls on the team in 2011, had played in both the WPS as well as overseas, and had been used to being treated with respect and professionalism as a female player.
Already irked that last minute (on a Thursday evening when the clinic was on a Saturday) they had been told to volunteer for the day for the organization, they were even more incensed, when 2 players from the MLS team who weren’t travelling with the team that weekend, showed up as the clinic was starting, signed some autographs and then left early to catch the men’s game on TV. Adding insult to injury, besides knowing the $300 the men’s players had gotten for their brief appearance, the girls finished and cleaned up the camp, missed the ferry home, and in the words of my teammate “felt like second class citizens.”
So to Mr Rollins and others who think like him: we are not asking for handouts, or for a league to be handed to us. We are looking for the opportunity to control our destiny. We’re asking for groups like the Whitecaps, who will use a connection to women’s soccer to make money and have control at the youth level, but don’t see a future for professional women’s soccer, and who are asking us to just be happy with a semi-professional league, to step out of the way. Let those who do believe in the possibility of professional women’s soccer, to take control at the grassroots level.
And Mr Rollins, for journalists such as yourself that wish to lecture the women’s soccer community at large as to what we should or shouldn’t do, at the very least, take the time to educate yourself on how things really are at ground zero in the women’s game, before bestowing your advice upon us. Because in the end, it really just makes you look ignorant.
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