Turmoil in Canada, France and Spain: why some players are avoiding their national teams

Janine Beckie, Wendie Renard and Alexia Putellas
Top-flight players in Canada, France and Spain have spoken out about disputes with their national teams

Four months before the World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand, several leading nations are in turmoil.

Canada, Spain and France have made headlines in recent months as disputes between players and federations escalated.

Players have raised concerns about equal pay, a lack of professional resources and the way they are managed for their national teams.

BBC Sport spoke to the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA)’s Fern Whelan about what can be done to prevent situations like this and takes a closer look at how these teams got into this position.

Canada fights for equality

Canada wears t-shirts that say
Canada wore “enough is enough” t-shirts to the SheBelieves Cup in February.

The Canada national team is embroiled in a dispute with Canada Soccer (CSA) over equal pay.

Last month, player announced a strike about pay equity and lack of funding concerns, which they said were affecting their benefits.

It was subsequently cancelled legal action over threats from the governing body, but players protested during the recent SheBelieves Cup by wearing purple t-shirts with “enough is enough” written on the front before their games.

players have now threatened to boycott a camp in April if demands are not met.

Last week, some players appeared before Canada’s parliament to discuss the ongoing dispute, with record goalscorer Christine Sinclair saying they were “forced to negotiate in the dark”.

“The success of the national team inspires the whole country and the future should be brighter than ever,” she said.

“However, as the popularity, interest and growth of women’s football has swept the world, our most arduous struggle has been with our own federation.”

Former England international Whelan, who is now a leader for equality, diversity and inclusion in women’s football at the PFA, said it was “clear” that the associations were “not doing enough” and Canada’s women players, speaking out as a collective, were on “more powerful” are ” reference to it.

“These are nations that have real, first-class experience in big tournaments,” she said.

“The Canadian team recently won the Olympics and these are teams that have excelled in their sport and the players are not getting the support they think they should be getting to be successful and go about their day to day work .”

High-ranking players are understood to be leading the negotiations on behalf of the squad, while players from the United States have shown support after a similar argument in March 2019.

“It’s important that players support each other and not just speak as individuals. It’s really powerful to have a collective voice,” Whelan added.

France discord between manager and players

Wendie Renard plays for France
Wendie Renard was stripped of the France captaincy under Corinne Diacre in 2017 but reinstated in 2021

There have been underlying tensions between some French players and coach Corinne Diacre for a number of years, which came to a head last month when several stars, including captain Wendie Renard, said they would no longer represent their country.

Renard was critical of the French ‘system’ and was embroiled in a boycott by teammates Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani, who said ‘management’ was behind their decision.

Diacre called it a “smear campaign” but couldn’t prevent the French Football Federation (FFF) from ending their tumultuous six-year tenure.

When she announced her layoff last week, The FFF said the situation was “irreversible”.

Due to her aggressive management style, there have long been uneasy relationships between Diacre and several high-ranking players.

In 2017, Diacre Renard stripped France of the captaincy. In 2019 she dropped Katoto from the World Cup squad. In 2020, Amandine Henry – Diacres captain in 2019 – was dropped after the midfielder claimed there was “total chaos” at camp.

Support for Diacre seemed split in the squad, but frustration at the FFF’s alleged lack of support for women’s football, its management and mentoring of the players was united.

“One of the French players has indicated that he is concerned about his mental health and well-being,” Whelan said. “They had to remove themselves from the squad.

“As a player I had someone to talk to when I was struggling with my mental health. It ensures that a support network is in place.

“It’s not just about going out and playing football – I’ve been looked after like that off the pitch too. The most important thing is to know that the player is a person before a footballer.

“How do we as federations make sure we take care of the player? That’s the main thing.”

Spain’s players take over coach and association

Spain celebrate after beating Scotland in World Cup qualifiers
Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas and Barcelona teammate Aitana Bonmati are among those who could miss the World Cup

Spain’s players are also embroiled in a row with their head coach, Jorge Vilda, but with a very different outcome – the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) has thrown its full support behind the man responsible.

In September, RFEF claimed 15 members of its national team had said they would resign unless Vilda resigned.

That was rejected by the players – but a standoff ensued, with the 15 involved not having been selected since. They include Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas and her Barcelona teammates Aitana Bonmati and Irene Paredes, who was Spain captain.

It is understood that players first expressed concerns about training methods, inadequate match preparation and managerial decisions during Euro 2022, when the team reached the last eight before losing to eventual winners England.

No progress is believed to have been made in the dispute as RFEF is building a new squad with the same coaching staff for the World Cup.

Some members of the Euro 2022 squad remain reluctant to return to the setup, while others are open to discussions in order to find a solution ahead of this summer’s tournament.

In October, Spanish journalist Maria Tikas, who writes for the country’s daily Sport, told BBC Sport she was “envious” of what other federations – including England – are doing to support women’s football.

“I’m disappointed because this situation came at a time when Spanish women’s football was at its best and it’s definitely a step backwards,” she added.

What should the next steps be?

Former Brighton and Everton defender Whelan said it was “concerning” that there is so much turmoil in international football, but the game’s rapid development has brought problems to the fore.

“We are at a critical time,” she added. “There’s a lot of awareness, there’s a lot of interest and we want so much from the players. We have to make sure we give back to them and listen to what they need.

“It’s a shame it has come to this, but the players should be applauded for using their voice. People should take women’s football seriously and they should have done it a long time ago.”

With so many players calling for change ahead of this year’s World Cup, Whelan said “real action needs to be taken now”.

France’s decision to ax Diacre may have come later than some players would like, but it gives them a chance to regroup and rebuild ahead of the World Cup. Renard has already told French media that she is open to a return if the next manager so desires.

“What is hopefully happening now is that the players are being listened to and it’s not just a token gesture,” she said. “They should be able to thrive in the environment and not feel like she’s opposing them and holding them back.

“I think in the future we can keep an eye on the players’ voices. We can form a partnership. They are the ones who go to training every day.”

“We wouldn’t have football without players, why not include them in development? While football is growing and it’s really positive, we have to take care of the players who are the focus.”

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