Canada's women's national team has called off a strike and will play in the SheBelieves Cup beginning next week after Canada Soccer threatened to take legal action, the players said in a statement Saturday.
The players preparing for the upcoming competition in Orlando, Florida, had said Friday that they were taking job action due to budget cuts, equal pay issues and an overall lack of support from Canada Soccer.
But on Saturday the Canadian federation threatened to sue the Canadian Soccer Players' Association (CSPA) and the players currently in camp, Canadian broadcaster TSN reported.
As a result, the players said they had little choice but to return to the field ahead of their opening game against the U.S. women's national team on Thursday.
"Representatives of the Players' Association met with Canada Soccer this afternoon for an hours-long meeting in which the concerns of the players were discussed in detail," the women's national team said in Saturday's statement.
"Prior to that meeting, Canada Soccer told us that they would consider our job action to be an unlawful strike. They told us that if we did not return to work -- and did not commit today to playing in Thursday's game against the United States -- they would not only take legal action to force us back to the pitch but would consider taking steps to collect what could be millions of dollars in damages from our Players' Association and from each of the individual players currently in camp.
"As individual players who have received no compensation yet for any of our work for Canada Soccer in 2022, we cannot afford the risks that personal action against us by Canada Soccer will create. Because of this, we have advised Canada Soccer that we will return to training tomorrow and will play in the SheBelieves Cup as scheduled."
An update from the Canadian Soccer Players Association pic.twitter.com/hysGyanG5q— CanadianSoccerPlayers (@PlayersCanadian) February 12, 2023
The SheBelieves Cup, a four-team tournament also featuring Brazil and Japan, is part of Canada's preparations for the FIFA Women's World Cup, which kicks off July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
Canada, ranked sixth in the world, won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
"We continue to believe that Canada Soccer's cuts to the national team programs -- especially right before our World Cup -- are unacceptable," the players added in their statement. "We continue to believe that Canada Soccer needs to do more to support our programs and our players. And we continue to believe that unless we stand up together and demand more, nothing will ever change."
Canada captain Christine Sinclair added on Twitter: "We are being forced back to work for the short term. This is not over. We will continue to fight for everything we deserve and we will win. The She Believes is being played in protest."
"It hurts, I'm not going to lie," Sinclair told TSN.
"We all represent this country proudly. We've shared some of the greatest moments together. But to not feel that support from your own federation has been hard in the past. But it's gotten to a point where, at least for me personally, until this is resolved I can't represent this federation. I'm such a competitor that breaks my heart and kills me..."
The CSPA released a letter Friday slamming Canada Soccer, saying it is "outraged and deeply concerned with the news of significant cuts" to national team programs.
After the players posted the letter demanding changes and Sinclair and Beckie confirmed the national team strike, Canada Soccer answered with a statement saying that negotiations had been in place for months.
"Pay equity for our Women's National Team is at the core of our ongoing player negotiations. Canada Soccer will not agree to any deal without it," the statement said.
"We presented an equity-based proposal to our players from both National Teams and their counsel several months ago and we are still waiting for a definitive response to the terms of that proposal."