Stephanie Labbe and football in Canada have found themselves in something of a unique and controversial situation.
Following a successful trial, the Canadian goalkeeper was named in the Canadian Foothills FC men’s football team.
However the Premier Development League barred her from playing because of her gender.
Since then story has captured the world’s attention, with several onlookers expressing support for Labbe’s fight to play in the men’s leagues.
“The league hasn’t changed any rulings to allow me to play here with the men’s team,” the Rio 2016 bronze medallist told Olympic Channel.
“I’m working hard behind the scenes to put in a challenge and get them to re-look at this rule because it’s an outdated rule that’s been around for a while and no one’s ever challenged it before.”
While the notion of a women playing in men’s leagues was rejected for now in football, the same cannot be said for Canada’s premier winter sport, ice hockey.
In recent years women’s players Shannon Szabados and Hayley Wickenheiser both earned professional contracts in men’s leagues. Their journey was far from easy, but Labbe has drawn great strength from the resilience of her compatriots, both of whom have publicly thrown their weight behind Labbe’s cause.
Ive been fortunate to play in leagues that only focus on skill, ability & most importantly development. They do not discriminate based on race, sex or age. Thank you @SPHL @ACACMens @TheAJHL for developing me into the player & person I am today.
Regarding @USLPDL on @stephlabbe1
— Shannon Szabados (@ShannonSzabados) May 3, 2018
— Hayley Wickenheiser (@wick_22) May 3, 2018
“They were successful in the end and have had extremely successful careers and it was huge for them to be able to do something like this…
It really has challenged them. I kind of know that I’m on the right path, knowing that people like that are reaching out.” – Labbe to Olympic Channel
BIG YEAR AHEAD
Whether Labbe is eventually allowed to compete in the men’s leagues or not, the 31-year-old’s decision to challenge the ruling has provided other playing opportunities.
With the 2019 women’s Football World Cup in France quickly approaching, she told us how vital it is to be seen playing, if she is to make the team for the qualifiers.
“I’ve been super proactive with that and I’ve been sending all the games that I have been playing here in [men’s team] preseasons, I’ve been sending that to the national team.
“There’s also a semi-pro women’s team and a men’s league that we’re going to try and get me in to, just a domestic Calgary Premier League.
“I’m in talks with a couple of big clubs over in Europe which I’m super excited about so just kind of narrowing down those options to really find the best fit for me.
“There’s a reason why I didn’t sign in Europe in January and it’s because the place I’m at right now, there’s doors open which weren’t open in January and that probably wouldn’t have been open unless I had been through this whole experience.”
While Labbe’s main focus for now is on gaining a professional contract and making the national team for the World Cup qualifiers, she also admitted to having on eye on the upcoming Olympics in 2020.
Canada have placed third at the last two Games, with the stopper part of the bronze-medal winning team in Rio, and Labbe was bowled over by the impact their achievement had on women’s football at home.
“Having such a young team going into Rio, we had this culture in the team and this one vision that really kept each other together and the amount of people that watched was mind-blowing.
“I couldn’t have imagined the amount and trajectory of women’s soccer in Canada and where it’s gone since then.”
With the tantalising prospect of becoming a gold medallist for her country, Labbe has been re-energised toward turning this into a reality in Tokyo.
“It was always a dream of mine to be an Olympian and now that I’ve got it the hunger and the fire inside is no less and I’m super excited to continue to work toward that and be there.”