Opinion: The Inter-Provincial Championship Showed Us The Best And Worst Parts Of Women’s Soccer
For those who watched the League1 Canada Women’s Inter-Provincial Championship, you know how much of a spectacle it was for fans and players alike.
For fans of Canada’s division three leagues – League1 Ontario, Ligue1 Quebec, and League1 BC – it was a chance to see the best female talent this country has to offer. Many of those who played over the weekend will be on the bench or even the Starting eleven for the Canadian Women’s National Team in the coming years. Hell, many of them are already donning the red-and-white in U-20 and U-17 international matches, showing the levels of prowess these girls have.
For the players on the other hand, they were living out their childhood dreams. The ‘Dream Gap’ has always existed in women’s sports; the dream of wanting to play their sport professionally yet the lack of infrastructure or interest to support women’s leagues, leading to many never even having the chance to see these dreams through. But leagues like the NWSL, Project Eight, and yes, even League1 Canada’s Inter-Provincial Championship help bridge this gap.
This weekend saw the players playing in a professional stadium – that being Vancouver FC’s Willoughby Community Park – with professional dressing rooms, lights, cameras, commentary teams, and adoring fans.
But if, like me, you were not able to make it out to Langley in beautiful British Columbia, you saw the flip side to this coin, and that was the obvious lack of investment in the digital presentation of the product. Namely, OneSoccer’s failure to provide a professional-looking feed for fans like myself to enjoy online.
Lack of Care or Lack of Funds?
Ever since the CPL was created in 2018, the league’s owners – Canadian Soccer Business (CSB) – promised to invest in all facets of the Canadian soccer ecosystem from the youth level to a professional mens league and even a women’s league to boot.
To give credit where it’s due, despite the controversy surrounding CSB’s deal with Canada Soccer, they have accomplished the first two goals. CSB now owns League1 Canada and has aligned the country’s semi-pro leagues under one banner while also expanding the umbrella with both new clubs and leagues alike. They have also supported a professional men’s league for five seasons. Yes, one team has ceased operations, but international investors like Atletico Madrid alongside rumoured interest from Club Lyon and the Bundesliga show that they are doing good work.
But what about that last goal? Do they think we forgot or do they believe that they have successfully accomplished that goal via League1 Canada’s women’s divisions? And now Project Eight has come in with no support from CSB and there seems to be no public interest in cooperation between the two groups which now creates an unpredictable environment.
The least they could do is give the one major female tournament they do run a professional atmosphere so fans, players, and investors can envision what a pro women’s footy league would look like in Canada.
Nope! Instead, the Inter-Provincial Championship stream on OneSoccer was marred with terrible mic quality, subpar camera quality, audio peaking, unrefined pre-recorded packages, and glitching.
We Have the Technology! Don’t we?…
The only question that remains is why? What was keeping League1 Canada and OneSoccer from presenting the best female soccer players in the country with even a quarter of the quality that Vancouver FC get in the same stadium?
And this is the part that has been bothering me the most. Did MediaPro – OneSoccer’s parent company – just leave their good cameras at home and bring the backups with faulty lenses? Did CSB/CSA/League1 Canada not pay enough to have them bring their best mics, thus leaving us with the same audio quality of a Call of Duty Xbox Live lobby?
I think it’s important to point out that I am in no way pinning the blame on the crews, the commentary teams, the volunteers, nor that clubs who organized this tournament on the ground and participated. They had nothing to do with the upper echelon decision making.
But, we must remember that this was all taking place in the home of a professional club in this country’s top flight. A stadium where Vancouver FC is returning to in just six-days time to take on Pacific FC. So seeing this, we know that better is possible – no, better is mandatory when the men’s squad is there – but we just opted not to give the girls the same treatment.
So. Where do we go from here?
Well, for starters, we don’t know where the 2024 edition of the Women’s Inter-Provincial Championship will be held. If I had to hazard a guess, it’ll either be in Ontario at Tim Horton’s Field or at ATCO Field in Calgary, Alberta.
League1 Ontario has yet to host an IPC and is the only one of the three founding leagues of League1 Canada to have not hosted, while League1 Alberta will be joining under League1 Canada’s umbrella next year in their inaugural season. For these reasons, I feel both Alberta or Ontario are good choices.
If one of my predictions are correct, that means that we will be in the same position this time next year, with League1 Canada’s best women’s squads playing on the home pitch of a professional Canadian men’s soccer club. A pitch with professional sounding microphones, professional camera quality, and with the infrastructure already in place to support all of the above.
Next year, League1 Canada is going to see many changes. The most notable is the restructuring of League1 Ontario as it introduces its ‘2024 Plan’ for promotion and relegation, with new teams joining League2 Ontario. On top of this, League1 Alberta will be joining the fold while League1 Atlantic and League1 Prairies are slated to host their own exhibition seasons akin to this year’s trial run in Alberta.
Ultimately, it’s a big year for the fifth-through-third tiers of the Canadian soccer pyramid, and if the CSA/CSB/League1 Canada wants us to start taking it more seriously, they need to start taking their athletes more seriously.