The other night I was lying on the floor which is something I do every night but not something becoming to a middle-aged woman, cruising the television when I serendipitously happened upon the pre-game ceremony honoring the retiring Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team players, most notably Christine Sinclair, prior to the Canada-Australia women’s friendly match. That got me thinking about greatness.
What did you know about the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team before 2012 when we all of a sudden took notice when they won the bronze medal at the London Olympics? If you are like me, very little. They pretty much toiled in the background, with little history of winning on the world stage, doing something they loved with little recognition and probably very few fans in the stands. Soccer just wasn't much of a thing back then. It's an interesting read about the history of the women’s team – from a chronic lack of funding to an almost demise in the early 1990’s. I understand that each individual team member even had to fundraise at one point.
And I didn’t pay much attention to Christine Sinclair in her 12 years on the national team prior to the London Olympics (12 years is pretty much a career for the average athlete, but she is not average). But maybe it was that initial lack of accolades and lack of attention and doing something purely because you love doing it that led to greatness and humbleness. The expectations were probably low in the early years. I am sure there were no fancy clothes and fancy cars and fancy endorsements and no major draft and no large signing bonusses and no huge contracts signed back then. We didn’t put Christine Sinclair or the team on a pedestal. The only pressure they had was their belief in themselves.
Along with the lack of attention in the early years, Christine Sinclair apparently was, and remains, a private, shy, person about whom we know litte. And the public has never cared because it just wasn’t that important. How refreshing in contrast to some superstar athletes and entertainers who just put themselves out there, draw attention to themselves, are hounded by media, and are always front-page news, either out of adoration or scandal or infatuation. Their dating life appears to be as important as what they actually do for a living.
But here we are, in 2023, 11 years after the London Olympics, with almost 50,000 fans showing up to watch a friendly match (meaning it was just a game that doesn’t count in statistics) and to honour someone who put Canadian soccer on the world map: 331 international matches, 190 goals (the all-time leader in both men’s and women’s soccer in international competition), Olympic bronze in 2012 and 2016 and gold in 2020.
And Christine Sinclair might be shy, but she speaks up when necessary. Just read up about her being fined and suspended after comments to an Olympic judge who she believed made a wrong call that cost the Canadian team a chance at gold. Or about her lobbying for equal opportunities as the men’s team. Or calling out Canada’s soccer leadership. Or even blocking the United States Women’s National Soccer Team on her Instagram account (now, that‘s just funny). It’s all on line for perusal.
So, on December 5th, 2023, more people showed up for a ‘friendly’ soccer match than show up for our average pro-sports teams in Canada, cheering and waving banners and wearing #12 jerseys and wiping a tear or two. And the opposing team gave Christine Sinclair as many hugs as they could squeeze in – a testament to her standing on the world stage. (Here’s a side-note to professional sports: people will show up if the product is real and sincere and true.)
And then Christine Sinclair played almost 60 minutes in the final friendly match. And Canada won 1-0. And then she quietly slipped away, in true fashion, to work on the Christine Sinclair Foundation, a charitable organization to promote girls with goals. You achieve greatness and then you give back. But she has apparently commented that she has no idea why people want to listen to her. It's all so fitting.
So, what a perfect time for a heartfelt, heartwarming celebration – to honour a career that did not depend on accolades or media or appearances or income or brashness but out of love of the game (even if the game wasn't that popular back then) and belief in herself and the team and the country and standing up for all of it when needed - and the rest followed. That’s true greatness. That’s an icon.