Original story posted here.
Play like girls.
In an image from a previous Winter Olympics, a highly-shared National Post editorial cartoon pokes fun and prods (in a good and humorous way) the Canadian men’s hockey team to play as well in their gold-medal game as the women – who had triumphantly just won the gold over their fierce U.S. rivals.
It was the gutsy, all-heart play by the Canadian women that won them the hearts of hockey fans and earned them the gold medal in those Games.
We all applauded their wonderful achievement, and wanted to somehow share those cigars and beer as they celebrated on ice.
Without a doubt, one of the key players backstopping the national women’s hockey team for the past number of Olympics has been goaltender Shannon Szabados.
Szabados is a tremendous athlete and goalie, who has been a mainstay in Canada’s net for a long time.
She has many hockey achievements in her life – many of them competing against men in various levels of play, including AAA Midget, Junior A and above.
Most valuable player on her team. MVP of the entire league.
In fact, Szabados likes playing against men because it readies her for stronger competition as the level of play increases in the women’s game.
And she’s clearly really good at it.
Enter Stephanie Labbe.
Labbe plays a similar position in a completely different sport – she is Canada’s national women’s soccer team goalie.
The native of Stony Plain, Alta., has also achieved sporting success at the highest levels, and has a glittering career playing the sport she loves.
Labbe recently chose to ply her talents with Calgary Foothills FC in the Premier Development League.
She wanted to get better. Improve. Face stronger competition each time she hits the pitch — like any true high-performance athlete.
Why choose to play against the men?
Her reasoning included that when she returns to playing against the best women in the world, she could anticipate the play better; she is more used to harder shots on a consistent basis; and it helped her overall competitive edge.
This week, news came that Labbe can’t play in the regular season of the PDL.
The PDL is a men’s league. Women aren’t allowed. Period.
She’s clearly good enough. And FC Foothills wants her on their team.
But nope – purely because of gender, Labbe can’t play in the PDL, a feeder league sponsored by the United Soccer Leagues in the U.S. and Canada.
And with no apparent mechanism to appeal in a timely fashion, the league’s decision is final.
One day, as we continue to march slowly toward a level playing field on a number of aspects in society, we hope decisions like this won’t be made. Or even have to be made.
Stephanie Labbe, with 49 appearances as our national women’s team goalie and winner of bronze in the 2016 Rio Olympics, deserves a place to play in the league where her abilities warrant.
Whether that league is male – or female.
Surely the time has come for this to be the case.