Christine Sinclair typically does her talking on the field, and for anyone who has watched the Canada women’s national soccer team and/or Portland Thorns FC at any point over the past two decades hears the star forward loud and clear.
Sinclair is a three-time Olympic medalist (gold, two bronze), three-time NWSL champion, Concacaf champion, and 14-time Canadian Soccer Player of the Year.
She is only the second player ever to appear and score in five FIFA Women’s World Cups, and—this may come as a surprise to many—is the all-time leading goalscorer in international soccer. While Cristiano Ronaldo has 117 goals for Portugal, which is the most in men’s soccer history, Sinclair boasts 190 goals for Canada on the international stage.
For the first time, the typically reserved and private star is opening up about life on and off the field in her new memoir, Playing the Long Game (Random House Canada), available November 1 wherever books are sold.
“I’m a pretty private person and this seemed like the worst idea in the world to me, but honestly it was a bunch of fun,” Sinclair says. “I’m at a point in my career where I’m tired of young kids only looking up to male professional athletes. Especially in Canada, it’s time to change the narrative a bit.
The book isn’t meant to serve as a handy resource for her highlights, but shows Sinclair not just as a soccer player, but as a daughter, a friend, a teammate, and as a human.
“At least when I was a kid and watching athletes, a lot of the time you only see the tip of the iceberg,” she says. “You see the moments where they’re standing on a podium or they’ve had a crushing defeat in front of 60,000 people. Those are the moments the fans see and I think it’s important for people to recognize we’re just humans. We’re just humans who have a different job.
“The struggles and battles we face—whether it’s personal life, losses, bad coaches—we go through them as well and they impact us just the same. We are actually no different than anyone else, we just happen to play a sport for a job.”
Not only do Sinclair and award-winning journalist and broadcaster Stephen Brunt dive into her personal life, including her mother’s 40-year battle with MS, but the memoir serves as a call to action. A call for more opportunities for girls and women in sports. A call for change in Canada.
Sinclair, who was born and raised in Burnaby, British Columbia, came to the United States in 2001 to play soccer at the University of Portland. While her professional career included stops in Vancouver, the San Francisco Bay Area and Western New York for many now-dissolved clubs, Sinclair triumphantly returned to The Rose City to play for the Thorns during the inaugural NWSL season in 2013.
The league’s growth in popularity and visibility isn’t lost on Sinclair despite the fallout from the Yates Report that detailed a lengthy list of “systemic abuse and misconduct” across the NWSL and women’s soccer, including the Thorns.
As the league wrapped up its 10th season this past weekend as Sinclair’s Thorns defeated KC Current 2-0 and the dust settles from the Yates Report, the NWSL has plenty of positives to focus on heading into the next decade.
The NWSL hosted more than 1 million fans to matches during 2022 for the first time in league history, welcomed two new franchises—Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC—is seeing investment from prominent sports figures including Kevin Durant, Carli Lloyd, Eli Manning, Sue Bird, James Harden and Alexander Ovechkin, and additional sponsor 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 finale; the 2021 title game was originally scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m. in Portland before it was relocated to Louisville after players and fans voiced their opposition to the early start time that was at the mercy of broadcast availability.
“I think it’s slowly changing,” Sinclair says. “It starts at the youth level—every opportunity a boy gets a girl should get as well and that should carry on through the professional ranks. It’s about exposure—TV rights and things like that. The Euros this past summer showed that if you put women’s sports on TV, people will watch them, and it just takes a little bit of investment. It’s slowly changing, but man, it’s slow.
“(Having the NWSL championship on primetime) is really necessary and a big step for the league that the pinnacle of our sport here is shown at the appropriate time on the appropriate station.”
While the 39-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down on the field, especially with the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup on the horizon next summer in Australia and New Zealand, Sinclair hopes the success she and her teammates achieved on the field, as well as her vulnerability and transparency in her memoir, continue to level the playing field for girls and women in soccer.
The Canada women’s soccer team, which is coming off winning gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, is in Group B for next summer’s World Cup where they hope to continue their winning ways and top the nation’s best finish of fourth at the 2003 Women’s World Cup.
Canada’s success at the international level, which also includes the men’s team qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986, is shining a spotlight on soccer in the Great White North.
For Sinclair, that means there’s no better time than now to make positive change for current and future generations.
“More people care. More people are writing about it. More people are asking questions,” she says. “It’s given power and strength to our collective voice. Obviously our next battle is trying to bring professional soccer to Canada. Winning Olympic gold, being on back-to-back-to-back podiums and now with our men’s team playing in the World Cup later this year, it’s time.
“It’s time now to truly make a change within Canada. We have the MLS, we have the CPL (Canadian Premier League) and there’s literally nowhere for a woman to play professionally in Canada. That’s the next challenge and that’s what we’re not-so-subtly demanding.”
The NWSL’s 10th campaign welcomed two new clubs—Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC—to the league. There’s been conversations of continued expansion for the league, including Minnesota Aurora club officials sending a letter to community owners and team shareholders saying the pre-professional USL-W club “can and should be a professional team.”
The league’s evolution and expansion has Sinclair excited.
“What you’ve seen is teams fold and new teams come in and continue to raise the bar and push other teams,” she says. “This year with L.A. and San Diego coming in and the splash they made, it forces other teams to evolve as well or they’re going to be gone or no one’s going to want to play for you. It’s an exciting time here in the NWSL.
“Obviously it’s been rough at the same time, but in terms of growing the game and things like that, we’ve seen tremendous progress these past couple of years.”
With a list of accomplishments longer than a CVS receipt, it can take days and weeks of retrospection to pick just one instance as most memorable.
As for her favorite on-field accomplishment, Sinclair was quick to point out one moment though.
“Obviously on the field, winning a gold medal, you can’t top that,” she says. “And to do it in the way we did with some of your best friends, it’s something that can never be taken away from you. That was special.”
Despite all of the accomplishments, including the aforementioned gold medal in Tokyo, Sinclair’s biggest takeaway from her storied career doesn’t come in the form of an accolade, trophy or record.
“The most important moments or most important things are the connections I made with people that I’ve played with, staff I’ve had,” she says. “Those are the things that when I’m done playing will matter the most—the people, the friends, the life-long bonds I have. That’s one special thing about playing a team sport, it’s the family that’s created. Going through this whole process, it’s the people I’ve done it with that make my journey special.”
Sinclair turns 40 a month before play begins at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup on July 20 in Australia and New Zealand.
While the lifelong competitor isn’t looking any further than what can potentially be her swansong as she hopes to help Canada best its fourth-place finish at the 2003 World Cup, Sinclair intends to be in and around soccer after hanging up her cleats.
“Yes, but I don’t know in what role or what capacity that will be,” she says. “I’m going to remain in the sport no matter what and I will continue to push the standards in Canada and push to have a professional league in Canada. Right now, I’m not sure what role that will be, but I’m not going to stop fighting for it.”