Karina LeBlanc knows how to save a goal and she clearly knows how to sell the game of soccer.
This article originally appear on Ottawacitizen.com on February 19th, 2015
– Written by Gord Holder, Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday morning she picked up the phone and sold a caller 100 tickets to 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup games in Ottawa.
“Make sure that my teammates know about that call,” the veteran goalkeeper for Canada’s national soccer team said loudly.
Whether she will get the call for this year’s tournament — starting June 6 — won’t be known until late May when team rosters are set, LeBlanc still speaks passionately about what would be her Canadian-record fifth Women’s World Cup this one at home.
“I remember seeing Donovan Bailey win that (1996) gold medal and seeing the flag rise and being like, ‘I want that.’
“World Cup is the biggest event for soccer, so every World Cup, any time you get a chance to be part of one, it’s incredible. But this one’s at home, so it makes it more personal, more special. You get to play in front of friends and family, but you also get to play in front of the country. Our team’s goal is to inspire a nation.”
The group of international women’s soccer players who filed and later withdrew a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario over the use of artificial surfaces instead of natural grass for the 2015 World Cup venues in Ottawa, Moncton, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver purposely did not include Canadians to avoid any potential conflict with the Canadian Soccer Association, host organization for the event.
LeBlanc says she was glad not to have been part of that discussion. She said the Canadians have a clear vision, “and it did not include whether or not we played on turf.”
Another moderate point of mild contention has involved whether soccer’s world governing body is fairly treating women in terms of payouts from the tournament: a total of $15 million U.S. for 24 participating teams. It’s true that the $15 million is 50 per cent higher than ever before, but there are more teams; previous Women’s World Cups involved 16 nations.
In contrast, 32 teams received various shares of $476 million from the men’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
When he was in Ottawa in December to oversee the 2015 draw, FIFA secretary-general Jérôme Valcke said the men’s championship was much more lucrative for FIFA, to the tune of $4.5 billion, and paid for all 20 World Cup events. As well, Valcke said, there have been 30 World Cup tournaments for men to just seven for women.
“Things can grow step by step,” Valcke said. “We still have another 23 before potentially the women should receive the same amount as men.”
LeBlanc, whose first World Cup was in 1999 in the United States, said the women’s focus should not be comparing themselves to men, but on leaving the sport better than it was when they entered it.
“More and more you are starting to see companies sponsor female athletes, starting to sponsor the association, and that’s all we can hope for: to keep pushing the envelope,” she said. “We’re trying to make a life out of this, too. We take it just as seriously as anybody the responsibility of being a role model and being professional athletes, and we’re willing to give everything for that.”
LeBlanc day began at Fisher Park Public School to promote Move Think Learn — Soccer in Focus. The physical literacy program for grades 4-9 is among the “legacy” aspects of the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
The athlete who was born in Atlanta, lived in Dominica until she was eight and then grew up in Maple Ridge, B.C., arrived after spending a couple of days on a helicopter adventure in the Rockies during a break from training in Vancouver. It was hard to tell from her reaction whether that was on any list of approved outside activities for national team members.
“If anybody knows me, they know that, on the week off, I’ll usually fly down to somewhere warm and debrief. But it was great, a chance to connect with Banff and get out and about. … “I’m a thrill seeker. I thought it was safe!”
The Canadian team will soon head to Cyprus for its final pre-World Cup tournament in early March, and there’s an April 9 friendly in France. Whether the players then briefly rejoin their pro clubs —LeBlanc starts in net for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Chicago Red Stars — is to be determined, but the push to the World Cup begins in earnest in May.
Canada plays two preliminary-round games in Edmonton and one in Montreal. A second-place standing in Group A and a victory in the round-of-16 could land Canada in a June 26 quarterfinal at TD Place.
That would be the only opportunity forLeBlanc to play in front of the fan who bought those 100 tickets on Wednesday, with semifinals and medal games scheduled for Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Asked if she deserved a commission,LeBlanc smiled.
“They can credit it to my account. That was pretty cool: 100 tickets on my first call. I think I’ll end there.”