April 25, 2024

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For all she’s done in Canada, Christine Sinclair has been equally impactful for soccer around the world

6 min read
For all she’s done in Canada, Christine Sinclair has been equally impactful for soccer around the world

There is no “arguably” when stating that Christine Sinclair is the most impactful and influential soccer player in Canadian history. 

She has the most goals of any international player, man or woman. Her face is synonymous with soccer, and in the last few years, with her fight against inequity in Canada Soccer. Her bright green eyes are not only focused on the pitch but on the legacy off of it. 

I have followed her professional career since it began more than 20 years ago. That career has seen her captain a team that reached the top of the podium, and tearfully exit a major tournament in the early group stages.

She has won medals at three different Olympics, won the Northern Star Award as Canada’s best athlete, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and is a recipient of the Order of Canada. She has thrown her support behind the new Canadian domestic league and was present for the announcement. 

Sinclair’s storied career has been an honour to witness. Her steely focus and tenacity on the pitch have cemented her place in Canada.

But what about Sinclair’s effect worldwide? We know that her humility and her dedication to the growth of the women’s game will not only impact soccer in Canada for generations to come, but that her effect in other parts of the women’s soccer ecosystem remains pronounced. 

WATCH: Legendary moments that defined a career:

Christine Sinclair’s farewell: Legendary Olympic moments that defined an era

Featured VideoChristine Sinclair saved some of her best performances for the Olympics; moments that helped Canada reach new heights.

I remember first hearing about Sinclair (adoringly called “Sincy” by her teammates and fans) in the early 2000s after she helped the University of Portland Pilots clinch a NCAA championship. Sinclair scored 110 goals during her tenure with the Pilots and made her mark among other notable players. 

One of her teammates at the school was recently retired USA soccer legend Megan Rapinoe. Sinclair has existed and excelled during a time when there was already a formidable foundation of women’s soccer, but she has contributed to its global success and its popularity at home. 

Press around the world lauded Sinclair when she competed in the 2011 in Germany with a broken nose wearing a face mask. I saw reports of her and knew she was already among an incredible group of players. But she was not keen on commenting about herself in public.

A woman hockey player sports a protective mask.
Sinclair wears a mask during a game after suffering a facial injury at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. (AFP via Getty Images)

As I grew in my career and she grew in hers, one thing I always knew was that she wasn’t interested in talking about herself, no matter how much any of us in the press box wanted her to. Sure, I always hoped she might pick me to do a sit-down interview and bear her soul, but that never happened. What I could do was do my job as effectively as she was doing hers and it would be a success. 

Sinclair is known for being incredibly private. She has a reputation for not loving press conferences, scrums or mixed zones. She definitely doesn’t like to talk about herself. I have watched interviews with her where she attributed her success to the team and not her own record-breaking.

Sinclair always preferred to talk about the team. And her lack of excitement about being in front of a camera was not an indication of timid or shy playing on the field. 

She never said a lot but when she does, her words are impactful. Like when she broke her traditional silence and testified in front of the Heritage Committee in the women’s team fight for equitable treatment from Canada Soccer.

She has won championships during her college and professional careers, as well as won Olympic medals — including gold — for Canada. She has done commercials and written a memoir. She does charity work with Multiple Sclerosis Canada. MS is the disease that took her mother, Sandi. But she guards her personal life closely. 

WATCH: Sinclair on bringing women’s league to Canada:

For Explore | Professional women’s soccer coming to Canada in 2025

Featured VideoSoccer superstars Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson announce that a professional women’s soccer league in Canada will launch in 2025. The athletes tell Adrienne Arsenault the country has the players, money and desire to make the league a success.

I thought about Sinclair’s ability to shine so brightly but at the same time wish to avoid any spotlight — a phenomenal juxtaposition that has not gone unnoticed. 

Sinclair’s impact is not only about her ability to put the ball in the back of the net, it is also with her demeanour. Her drive to win and unapologetic manner are very respected. Despite some long-standing rivalries, she has commanded the respect of opponents. 

In January 2021, a tweet went out from FOX Soccer asking who was the best player to never win the Ballon d’Or award for best player. Her former Portland teammate Rapinoe responded “Christine Sinclair.” Rapinoe also added “still hating Canada” to recognize the long-standing rivalry between the American and Canadian teams, but the point was made. 

A women's soccer team celebrates a championship with a trophy.
Sinclair, with trophy, and Megan Rapinoe (3) celebrate winning NCAA championship in 2005 with the University of Portland. (AP)

Despite their rivalry that includes the NWSL (Sinclair at Portland and Rapinoe with OL Reign) Rapinoe admitted that Sinclair had not received the accolades she deserved.

In 2021, Sinclair was awarded the FIFA Special The Best Award in recognition of her becoming the highest-scoring player in international soccer.

Among the things that have punctuated her career have been her high game IQ and ability to observe, adapt and then attack. Nadine Angerer is a former goalkeeper for the German women’s national team and also a former teammate of Sinclair in Portland. She is now the goalkeeping coach with the Thorns. In a 2021 piece for The Athletic, Angerer talked about Sinclair’s brilliant soccer mind and how she understands the complexities of the games but navigates them to her advantage.

“I think this defines a world-class player,” Angerer told The Athletic’s Steph Yang. “She understands soccer and she loves soccer.”

This past summer while I was in Australia covering the Women’s World Cup, I remember the media conference following Canada’s first match against Nigeria, a 0-0 draw. Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie told the room that she had saved a penalty kick from Sinclair who had scored on her in a previous international friendly.

“We’re even now,” she said smiling.

Saving that penalty was important to Nnadozie in the moment of play but also because she stopped the highest-scoring footballer of all-time. There aren’t many people who can make that claim. 

Sinclair’s impact is not only on soccer players. At the Canada-Jamaica match last month that saw Canada qualify for the 2024 Olympics, I ran into PWHL players Erin Ambrose and Sarah Nurse. Ambrose was proudly wearing a Sinclair kit. 

For the last few months when people ask me if Sinclair might retire, my response is simply that she may be done competing internationally but I doubt she is finished with soccer. Someone whose love of the beautiful game has brought this country some of the most incredible moments in sport couldn’t just hang up her boots and walk away, could they?

The reality is that Sinclair doesn’t owe us anything. She has done so much without equal pay, opportunity and as a woman in the sports space. She has earned the right to sit back and just absorb how important she is for youth across Canada, reflect on how her imprint is on the game, in the memories of players she has faced, and the media she taught along the way.

And if she ever wanted to sit down for a chat with me, I would be always be honoured to be sitting with greatness.


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