Andre De Grasse Buys In On Women’s Pro Soccer
Six-time Olympic Medalist Andre De Grasse has purchased an ownership stake AFC Toronto City, one of the upcoming launch teams set for Canada’s own women’s professional soccer league in 2025.
The club has confirmed that the star sprinter – Canada’s most decorated male Olympian – has formally joined the ownership group of AFC Toronto, which is one of three teams set to join Project 8 so far.
“I’m a big fan of Canadian women’s soccer,” says De Grasse. “I took my daughter to see them play in Orlando last winter and was in Toronto to see them qualify for the 2024 Olympics. I found it hard to believe that they were all playing professionally in the U.S. and Europe with no opportunities to earn a living playing in Canada. This new league will change that!”
It hadn’t taken long for the Olympian to reach out to the league following its announcement in December 2022, with AFC Toronto being unveiled just months afterward. Invited out to the aforementioned match in Toronto, representatives from the club asked if he would buy into the project, and the answer was a resounding yes.
“We are thrilled to welcome Andre De Grasse to our ownership group,” says AFC Toronto CEO Helena Ruken, who we’ve spoken with before. “We appreciate De Grasse’s dedication to working with the community and believe that his record of excellence and hard work in the world of track and field will set the standard for our team.”
Born in Scarborough, De Grasse has invested plenty in his community through his own foundation and recently founded ADG Ignite Ventures, which will back multiple startups. He also has personal ties with football in the community, having played soccer with the Toronto Azzurri in his youth days.
While his total investment in the club was not disclosed, we know the ownership team of AFC Toronto features six others: Helena Ruken, Branda Ha, Jill Burgon, Mike Ruthard, Billy Wilson, and Shamez Mangalji.
Ruken has held senior roles at the the North Toronto Soccer Club for seven years, having assumed the role as Club President in 2020. Ha began her three-year term on the NTSC board in 2021, bringing with her a strong-looking banking background and entrepreneurial experience through a successful personal concierge startup, while Jill Burgin’s relation to the venture is largely known.
Meanwhile, Ruthard is a Rotman grad and founder of an investment holdings company with decades of financial experience, fundraiser Shamez Mangalji is a foreign exchange trader, and Wilson brings experience from both Ontario Soccer and Canada Soccer with him, having also held the roles of technical director, women’s head coach, and executive director with the NTSC.
“Andre is joining an investment group in Toronto that, like he does, understands the incredible impact that sport has on individuals and communities, as well as the significant growth potential of women’s professional sport in Canada,” adds Project 8 co-founder and fellow Olympian Diana Matheson. “I cannot wait to see what comes next for this team with Andre behind them, and like many Canadians, I absolutely cannot wait until opening day in 2025.”
Project 8 has been slated to launch in April 2025, with the league having unveiled three of eight planned launch teams. De Grasse adds some strong backing for AFC Toronto City, though fans will be keen to see what other clubs join the fold as the months begin to tick by.
Elsewhere, Vancouver and Calgary have also stepped up to the plate alongside Toronto, with Matheson – who founded the league alongside Thomas Gilbert – having earlier told us the league had concrete interest in two-third of the markets they were seeking.
There are still five clubs still to join if Project 8 is to hit its launch target, with franchise fees clocking in at one million dollars – though investors will need an estimate $8-10 million in capital to invest through the league’s first five seasons. That isn’t just investing in their own club, but a piece of the league itself as well.
De Grasse says that his decision to buy into the club came easy after meeting those involved.
“I’ve been watching the growth of the CEBL [Canadian Elite Basketball League] and what Ryan Reynolds has done with Wrexham AFC. It’s really inspiring on both a sport and community level.”