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Soccer fans are throwing their support behind the Canadian women's team as players return to the field Thursday after walking off the job.

The Olympic gold-medal team announced a strike on Feb. 11, citing significant cuts to national team programs less than six months before the Women’s FIFA World Cup. The job action lasted one day before Canada Soccer threatened legal action against the players, calling the strike unlawful.

On social media, soccer fans have backed the players. Recent Instagram posts from Canada Soccer, the governing body for soccer in Canada, are filled with angry comments demanding women players be paid and respected.

After the team announced they would play in the SheBelieves Cup on Thursday, captain Christine Sinclair took to social media to say: "This is not over. We will continue to fight for everything we deserve and we will win. The SheBelieves is being played in protest."

Angelo Cavalluzzo, associate head coach of the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues women’s soccer team, says the SheBelieves Cup will be a “really good event.” He expects the tournament, which is meant to encourage young women and girls to reach their dreams, will bring more awareness to equity and equality issues in Canadian soccer.

“Whether it be post-game interviews from opponents, not just the Canadian women’s national team, all of the groups there are going to do their best to bring their attention to the topic,” said Cavalluzzo.

The 29-year-old believes a lot of people will be watching Thursday’s game to support the women on the pitch rather than the Canada vs. U.S.A. rivalry.

“From a competition perspective, you can see just on social media how the American national team players have put out their support for the Canadian women’s team,” he said.

Canada women's soccer team playing at BMO field in Toronto in May 2019. Photo by Nairah Ahmed / Canada's National Observer

One of the main issues the women’s team is fighting for is equal pay. “A lot of federations of the national teams have agreements with both genders where there is pay equity between both men and women,” Cavalluzzo explained. “I know that both the men and women have been having those conversations with Canada Soccer hoping to come to a resolution, which very clearly has not happened yet.”

Angelo Cavalluzzo, associate head coach of the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues women’s soccer team, says he expects the SheBelieves Cup will bring more awareness to equity and equality issues in Canadian soccer through.

But what’s going on with the Canadian women’s soccer team goes beyond pay equity alone, Cavalluzzo added. “There’s a lot of conversation around resources and how much the men had for the World Cup versus what the women are receiving for the upcoming World Cup in Australia this summer.”

Sinclair, the team captain, highlighted that discrepancy on Twitter, posting a statement of operations from Canadian Soccer Association Incorporated that showed the association’s expenses for the women’s national team were less than half of what it spent on the men’s team in 2021.

Prior to becoming a head coach with the Varsity Blues, Cavalluzzo was an Ontario University Athletics all-star as captain of the McMaster Marauders, winning two OUA championship titles and later playing goalkeeper for Toronto FC II. He coached both the women’s and men’s teams at McMaster University before joining the Varsity Blues in 2018.

Cavalluzzo says student athletes at the university level and younger are looking up to the professional soccer players on the Canadian women’s team.

“They have a fantastic presence and are great role models for young student athletes,” he said. “It’s amazing these players are taking a stand and fighting for what they believe in.”

Since the Canadian women's soccer team is unable to sit out the game on Thursday, Cavalluzzo makes one thing clear: they need Canadians’ support.

“Showing support through social media or in person when those events do happen is the best way to show there is an audience and a willingness to support these programs and fantastic athletes,” Cavalluzzo said.

When it comes to men’s versus women’s soccer, “you don’t need to see this as two different sports,” Cavalluzzo said. “It’s the same sport, they're playing the same game and you can enjoy it the same way.”

—With files from the Canadian Press

Nairah Ahmed / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer