MELBOURNE, Australia — In an act of mutual solidarity, Nigeria and Canada said they will put aside clashes with their federations to focus on their football when they face off in their FIFA World Cup 2023 debut match.
Both Nigeria and Canada’s World Cup preparations have been dogged by off-field issues, the pair speaking out on disparities in payment and bonuses, working conditions and resourcing and federation interference.
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The reigning Olympic champions, Canada’s women have been in a long-standing dispute with Canada Soccer seeking to secure equal pay and support with their male counterparts.
Though no deal was able to be secured before the team departed for Australia, captain Christine Sinclair told reporters at the team’s official pre-game news conference on Thursday that a new deal was “on the verge of being signed and I’m done talking about the negotiations.”
Preparing to play in an astounding sixth-World Cup, Sinclair acknowledged a sense of solidarity that existed between the Nigerian and Canadian sides, as well as with other women’s teams undergoing their disputes with their federations.
“The world of women’s football is very small,” she said. “We all support each other. I feel like each women’s team has to face their battles one at a time.
“This past year we’ve been facing ours and Nigeria [is] now with their federation. We fully support them. Every single player in this tournament deserves the world — deserves equal treatment from their federations.”
On Wednesday, midfielder Sophie Schmidt said that the team had “compartmentalised” the team’s issues with the federation and focused entirely on the task at hand since arriving in Australia, something Sinclair echoed.
“We all have a lot on our plates,” said Sinclair.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Janine Beckie, who is unfortunately not here with us due to injury but who has taken on a massive role in dealing with our federation and negotiations so that we as players here at the World Cup, in these weeks leading into the tournament, we haven’t had to do anything.”
Perennial African powers Nigeria have dealt with their off-field issues heading into the World Cup, exacerbating on-field concerns that have arisen ever since they were eliminated in the semifinals of last year’s Women’s Africa Cup of Nations by Morocco.
The team has butted heads with the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) over withheld payments, enlisting the help of the global player’s union FIFPRO over the matter, and there were even talks of a boycott of Friday’s games, a notion that was discounted by forward Toni Payne.
“In terms of equal pay, as female footballers, we aim to have the best conditions possible for us,” said Payne.
“For now, in the tournament, our main focus is on each game.
“When the issue of payment and equal pay in women’s football comes to the surface it can be difficult to focus at times but as a team, we know what we came here for and that’s to play football and to focus on the tournament.”
Nigerian coach Randy Waldrum, meanwhile, earned the NFF’s ire after making a series of podcast appearances last month in which he expressed disappointment with the way the federation has supported the team throughout his tenure.
He also claimed they had interfered in his squad selection and banished his assistant Lauren Gregg.
However he, too, was intent on keeping focus on Canada and the WWC when faced with questions on Thursday.
“Right now, all of our focus has been on Canada and the team has come together and made that decision to make this the focus and not be distracted,” he said on Thursday.
“Me personally, I’ve said the thing that I’ve said… I don’t want to get into that, it’s all about the football now.”