Christine Sinclair usually speaks on the field, and anyone who has watched the Canada women’s national soccer team and/or Portland Thorns FC at any point in the last two decades will hear the star loud and clear up front.
Sinclair is a three-time Olympic gold medalist (gold, two bronze), three-time NWSL champion, Concacaf champion and 14-time Canadian Footballer of the Year.
She is only the second player to have scored in five FIFA Women’s World Cups and, surprisingly, is the all-time leading scorer in international football. While Cristiano Ronaldo has scored 117 goals for Portugal, the most in men’s football history, Sinclair has 190 goals for Canada at international level.
In her new memoir, the typically reserved and reserved star opens up about life on and off the pitch for the first time. Play the long game (Random House Canada), available November 1 wherever books are sold.
“I’m quite a reclusive person and that seemed like the worst idea in the world, but honestly it was a lot of fun,” says Sinclair. “I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I’m tired of young kids only looking up to male professional athletes. In Canada especially, it’s time to change the narrative a bit.
The book isn’t meant to be a handy source for her highlights, but rather portrays Sinclair not just as a soccer player, but as a daughter, a friend, a teammate, and a person.
“At least when I was a kid and I watched athletes, you often only saw the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “You see the moments when they stand on a podium or suffer a crushing defeat in front of 60,000 spectators. Those are the moments that fans see and I think it’s important for people to realize that we’re only human. We’re just people with another job.
“The struggles and battles we face – whether it’s personal life, losses, bad coaches – we go through them too and they affect us just as much. We’re not really any different from anyone else, we just happen to play a sport for a job.”
Not only do Sinclair and award-winning journalist and broadcaster Stephen Brunt delve into their personal lives, including her mother’s 40-year battle with MS, but the memoir also serves as a call to action. A call for more opportunities for girls and women in sport. A call for change in Canada.
Born and raised in Burnaby, British Columbia, Sinclair came to the United States in 2001 to play soccer at the University of Portland. While her pro career included stints in Vancouver, the San Francisco Bay Area and western New York for many now-defunct clubs, Sinclair triumphantly returned to The Rose City to play for the Thorns during the 2013 NWSL inaugural season.
The league’s increasing popularity and visibility is not lost on Sinclair, despite the aftermath of the Yates report, which includes a lengthy list of “systemic abuse and misconduct” in the NWSL and women’s football, including the Thorns.
While the league wrapped up its 10th season last weekend when Sinclairs defeated Thorns KC Current 2-0 and the dust settled on the Yates report, the NWSL has plenty of positives to look forward to as we head into the next decade can concentrate.
The NWSL welcomed more than 1 million fans to games in 2022 for the first time in league history, welcomed two new franchises – Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC – and saw investments from prominent sports figures such as Kevin Durant, Carli Lloyd and Eli Manning , Sue Bird, James Harden and Alexander Ovechkin, as well as additional sponsorship support from brands including Ally, Nike, Budweiser, Verizon and Mastercard.
This year’s championship game on October 29 aired at 8 p.m. ET on CBS – a first primetime slot for the NWSL Finals; The 2021 title game was originally scheduled to start at 9 a.m. in Portland before being moved to Louisville after players and fans expressed opposition to the early start time being at the mercy of broadcast availability.
“I think it’s slowly changing,” says Sinclair. “It starts at the youth level – any opportunity a boy gets should get a girl and that should continue through the professional ranks. It’s about visibility—TV rights and stuff like that. Last summer’s European Championships showed that if you put women’s sport on TV, people will see it and it just takes a little investment. It’s slowly changing, but man, it’s slow.
“(Having the NWSL Championship in prime time) is really necessary and a huge step for the league that the pinnacle of our sport is shown here at the right time on the right channel.”
While the 39-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down on the field, especially with the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 looming in Australia and New Zealand next summer, Sinclair is hopeful for the success she and her teammates have achieved on the field, as well as theirs Vulnerability and Transparency in her memoir, continuing to create a level playing field for girls and women in football.
Canada’s women’s soccer team, who won gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, are in Group B at next summer’s World Cup, where they hope to continue their winning streak and surpass the nation’s best fourth-place finish at the 2003 Women’s World Cup.
Canada’s international success, which includes the men’s team qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986, puts a spotlight on football in the Great White North.
For Sinclair, this means there is no better time than now to make positive changes for current and future generations.
“More people care. More and more people are writing about it. More and more people are asking questions,” she says. “It has given power and strength to our collective voice. Obviously the next thing we’re trying to do is bring professional football to Canada. Winning Olympic gold, back-to-back podiums and now playing with our men’s team in the World Cup later this year, it’s about time.
“Now is the time to really make a difference within Canada. We have MLS, we have CPL (Canadian Premier League) and there is literally no place in Canada for a woman to play professionally. That’s the next challenge, and we’re not asking that so subtly.”
Season 10 of the NWSL welcomed two new clubs – Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC – to the league. There have been talks of continued league expansion, including officials from the Minnesota Aurora Club sending a letter to community owners and team shareholders saying the pre-professional USL-W club “can and should be a professional team.”
The development and expansion of the league inspires Sinclair.
“What you’ve seen is teams crash and new teams come in and keep raising the bar and pushing other teams forward,” she says. “This year, with LA and San Diego coming in and making a splash, it’s forcing other teams to evolve as well, or they’ll go away, or no one will want to play for you. It’s an exciting time here at the NWSL.
“Obviously it was tough at the same time, but in terms of game growth and things like that, we’ve seen tremendous progress over the last few years.”
With a list of achievements longer than a CVS receipt, it can take days and weeks of retrospect to pick just one instance as the most memorable.
As for her favorite performance on the field, however, Sinclair was quick to point out a moment.
“Obviously on the court, when you win a gold medal, you can’t beat that,” she says. “And doing it like we did with some of your best friends is something that can never be taken away from you. That was something special.”
For all of her accomplishments, including the Tokyo gold medal mentioned above, Sinclair’s greatest accomplishment of her storied career doesn’t come in the form of an award, trophy or record.
“The most important moments or the most important things are the connections I made with people I played with, co-workers I had,” she says. “Those are the things that matter most when I’m done playing – the people, the friends, the lifelong bonds that I have. That’s what’s special about team sports, it’s the family that develops. As I go through this whole process, it’s the people I’ve done it with that make my journey special.”
Sinclair will turn 40 one month before kick-off at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand on July 20.
While the lifelong competitor looks no further than what could possibly be her swan song as she hopes to help Canada surpass their fourth-place finish at the 2003 World Cup, Sinclair intends to be in and around football after she hung up her shoes.
“Yes, but I don’t know what capacity or capacity that will be in,” she says. “I will definitely stay in the sport and I will continue to push standards in Canada and push to have a pro league in Canada. Right now I’m not sure what role that will be, but I won’t stop fighting for it.”