After an 18-year career that included three FIFA Women’s World Cup finals and three Olympic Games, Canada’s Diana Matheson brought down the curtain on her playing days today while promising to do everything she could to bring professional soccer to her country.
Since first playing college soccer at Princeton in 2004, Matheson has forged her entire career abroad, something she hopes will not be a choice that future generations are forced to make by bringing a professional National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) franchise to Canada and eventually by starting up a professional league in her country. In August, Matheson will begin an MBA at Queen’s and working with a group exploring how to bring a professional women’s soccer league to Canada.
“We’re at the brink of that”, she said today, “and as someone who wants to be behind-the-scenes in head offices and to help make decisions, that’s very exciting. I would love to help bring a professional league to Canada. A women’s professional league that’s at least six months, paid salaries, player-driven. We can be really creative and innovative in what we can build here. Of course, you’ve got to get the NWSL coming to town and hopefully that happens in the near future too.”
Matheson on the back of Canada’s recent success on the international stage and the growing global popularity of women’s soccer around the world, the necessary investment can be secured. “I think there’s money out there. I think there’s a lot of businesses looking to invest in equity and diversity, so that’s one avenue. I think too there’s different revenue models you can look at. Women’s sport is really exciting because of being innovative.”
“We’re not just following traditional ownership models, like with Angel City, or they’re not just following traditional revenue models in sports. Bums on seats, ticket sales, is not the number one source of revenue in women’s sports, so you don’t build a league and you don’t build a team around that. You’ve got three or four other sources – your sponsorship, your academies, your merchandise – you’ve got a number of other things you want to monetize before that. I think women’s sports can look at what E-sports is doing and that industry. E-sports is not making money because it’s selling tickets to things. There’s a lot of creative things we can do, especially if you’re starting from scratch. You can be really innovative”.
Matheson won 206 caps for her country since she first represented her country in March 2003 at the Algarve Cup. However, she will always be remembered in Canada as the player who scored the last-gasp goal against France in Coventry which earned her nation their first Olympic medal in a team sport at the Summer Games in 76 years.
Matheson confessed that “I’m so grateful that I have an Olympic moment and that’s the moment that will always define my career and for that to be the case is unbelievable and cool. I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world. It was very much, I think, a watershed moment for Canadian soccer. There was just a different level of attention paid to the women’s team, a bigger platform after that.”
General Secretary of the Canada Soccer Association, Peter Montopoli added “we always remember where we were in 2012, when Diana achieved that marvelous goal for Canada to achieve something we hadn’t done in 76 years. I could go on with a long list of her accomplishments on the pitch. I’m equally as proud of Diana for her accomplishments off the pitch and the work she did for the women’s national team and the players”.
“If there’s one word that comes to my mind in working with Diana, it’s leadership. She’s a been real leader of women’s sport and will continue to be in her retirement. She will do some great work off the pitch. Diana, thank you for everything you have done for Canada on the pitch and more importantly the work you will be doing off the pitch for women in sport. We look forward to working with you in the next stage of your career”.
Nine of the current 22-player Canadian Olympic roster is now plying their trade in Europe, something that Matheson herself did when she joined Norwegian club Team Strømmen (now LSK Kvinner) for two years as a 24-year-old in 2008. She explained to me how much she learned from that experience. “I loved to play internationally. I think it’s a great experience for any player to go to Europe and play. It’s a different style of play. Especially the players now that are going to these big clubs. The tradition of playing somewhere like, you know, a Manchester United or a Barcelona, that’s pretty cool. I wish those options had been around earlier in my career, I would have loved to go.”
“At the same time, do I want to see more Canadians go to Europe? Not necessarily, because I would love to see more Canadians stay at home. Once we have NWSL and our own league as an option, I think we can start to have more Canadians playing at home which is what we need as well. The Canadians go to Europe and the United States because they have to, right? So, yes I want to see Canadians continue to go and experience that culture, experience the big clubs, play at the highest level but at the same time, I want more and more Canadians playing in Canada too.”