Pride, Soccer, Identity

Over the weekend I was at Pride Toronto, celebrating my community and the people in my life, many of which represent the spectrum of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) that the festival honours every year. My schedule was pretty jam packed: Friday was the Trans March followed by dancing at the Two-Spirit Rainbow Pow Wow, some sleep time, and then the next day brunch, Dyke March, 519 Beer Garden, sleep time, rest time, and Sunday night at Black is Black: Blockorama 18 with a final night cap at the 519 Beer Garden. All in all it was fabulous.

In between all this I watched the weekend quarter-final games of the UEFA Euro 2016 – Italy vs Germany and France vs Iceland – the former being so intense I could barely watch the penalty shoot out. As an Italian-Canadian, when men’s international soccer tournaments take place my allegiance is always with the Azzurri. I love it when they win and I love it even more when I get to gloat about their dynasty. The Azzurri are one of the most accomplished and decorated national team in the history of soccer. That is no easy feat.

(I have yet to watch Italy’s women’s national team and this is one of the things I hope for: that they will qualify for the next Women’s World Cup or that I will make the journey to Italy some day soon to see them live in action. For a brief moment I had an arms length experience of this when Carolina Morace was the head coach of Canada’s women’s national team).

However it was also strange to be ‘so Italian’ in and amongst being ‘so gay’. Sometimes this doesn’t make any sense to me, to be Italian, to be Canadian, to be openly lesbian, to be an athlete, to be a soccer fan, to be a woman, to be an ally with marginalized groups, to be living all these things. Sport is already hard enough when you are a woman or transgender, sport becomes even harder when you recognize the layers and layers of politics, oppression, joy, pride, corruption, complexity and stereotype that govern your body.

Sport and sexuality as a topic has made huge gains in the mainstream over the last five years – some elite athletes who are part of the LGBTQ community are becoming more open about their sexuality and leading by example, others are providing advocacy at the grassroots level. This is refreshing. I love it. And I understand how hard it is to occupy this space.

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Women’s World Cup: Quarterfinals

So that feeling I had about Canada winning against England turned out to be optimism. Some crucial mistakes early in the game led to back-to-back goals by England, and at that point Canada was catching up. As the second half wore on, Canada couldn’t net an equalizer and then the game was over. The group I was watching with was crushed, as I’m sure everyone else watching in-person and throughout the country was. And yet there’s so much to be excited about … “Canadian pair and childhood friends feeling ‘surreal’ about FIFA World Cup”

1000-friendsRichard Lautens/Toronto Star

Look at the joy in this picture!!! That’s Ashley Lawrence on the left and Kadeisha Buchanan on the right. They have been standouts for Canada throughout the WWC and they will redefine the senior women’s program moving forward. Which leads me to a little bit of analysis, bear with me.

When you play competitive, elite level soccer, there will always be social-politics, preferences and money that influence decision-making. Sometimes those in power make the right decisions, and sometimes not. Every program has its conflict (I just read about some in the US WNT following some questionable coaching decisions about starting line-ups) and Canada’s WNT is no exception. Here are some key highlights from the last two decades, which only skims the surface:

October 2006: Senior Players Cut from Canada WNT
October 2006: Canadian WNT in Turmoil
April 2007: Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) Court Decision
July 2011: Carolina Morace Quits as Coach
November 2011: Change on the Horizon for CSA
July 2014: Time is Now for Canada to Shift from Participation to Performance in Soccer
November 2014: CSA Rejects Mediation offer on WWC Turf Issue
June 2015: Coach Herdman Denies Rift in Team

Many of the current veteran players on the Canadian WNT have been through these scandals, the turmoil, the politics and the exclusivity that comes along with playing at this level. There are also so many who have never debuted for Canada in a major tournament even though they have the quality and depth to play at that level. With better leadership at the top comes better decision-making and opportunities for players. The Canadian program has had a “players second” mentality for many decades and the need for that to change is urgent.

Last year at the U20 WWC, I watched a cohesive, skilled Canadian U20 WNT play in the group stage at BMO field. I was pleasantly surprised at these younger players and am hoping to see many of them at the 2019 WWC in France. If there’s anything to be learned from the 2015 WWC it’s that heartfelt optimism will only get you so far. It’s substance and clear direction that wins games. It’s time Canada adopted a more balanced approach to the game, one that is strategically objective and integrates the personal/athletic chemistry that makes teams champions. I see this in the friendship of Lawrence/Buchanan and am excited about their transcendence into the face of Canadian soccer.

Pictures*** from the Ottawa match played on June 26th are below.
[Quarter-Final Match 45: USA vs China PR]

IMG_1725 IMG_1729 IMG_1743 IMG_1747 IMG_1754 IMG_1758 IMG_1763 IMG_1782 IMG_1789 IMG_1804 IMG_1816 IMG_1829

***All pictures © Cristina Murano

Soccer and Futsal in Italy: Carolina Morace and Serie A Feminnile

Italians are known for being soccer and futsal enthusiasts, and with a large Diaspora in Argentina, Canada, USA, and Brazil, that enthusiasm is both at home in Italy and international. As a result, the elite programs that Italy offers for girls, boys, women and men end up training versatile and dynamic players.

Some of you may be familiar with Carolina Morace because of her brief stint as Head Coach of the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team (2009 – 2011). Yet Morace had a lengthy and accomplished professional career in Italy, playing from 1978 – 1997 for the Italian Women’s National Soccer Team where she scored 105 international goals. She was also a professional Coach in Italy prior to her appointment in Canada.

The quality and diversity of training programs and leagues in Italy, and throughout Europe, is what the Canadian Soccer Association aspires to create for current and future players, which is a very good thing, but we have a long way to go…

…just check out Divisione Calcio A 5 as one example of the depth of Italian programming, which organizes Italian futsal leagues at the highest levels. The Serie A Feminnile is where many talented, elite female players are registered to compete. Videos of their games can be viewed here: league games