As a striker for the world's best women's soccer team in the '80s, Canadian standout Carrie Serwetnyk could scan the pitch of her University of North Carolina teammates and see athletes who would graduate to become sport leaders in their country.
April Heinrichs went on to coach the American national team from 2000 to 2004, winning Olympic gold at the Atlanta Summer Games.
Tracey Leone managed the U-19 women's team and later the adult national team. She helped run programs at five American universities.
Today, Serwetnyk can list the successes of her North Carolina Tar Heel teammates. Back home in Canada, she found similar opportunities were closed to her. Although she is a certified coach and was the first women inducted into Canada's soccer hall of fame, she was turned away from entry-level positions at soccer organizations for which she believes she was qualified. She says she was occasionally treated with disdain, and not just behind closed doors.
Serwetnyk, who lives in Kitsilano and published the magazine Free Kick, believes she was a threat to power structures occupied and protected by men.
"I never understood before what was meant by a glass ceiling," she said.
Now committed to seeing major changes in the ways soccer is run in Vancouver and across the country at community, provincial and national organizations, she founded Why the Women's World Cup Matters. She is leveraging the 2015 World Cup, hosted by six Canadian cities including Vancouver, to draw awareness to the inequality and discrimination she says affects the girls and women who make up 47 per cent of all soccer players in Canada.
According to her research, women's programs receive less than 10 per cent of all funding and comprise less than one per cent of leadership positions, specifically on boards and as club directors and technical staff.
On Monday night, she got the support of the Vancouver Park Board, which passed a motion to determine if the recreational system provides equal access for women of all ages. The study will extend beyond soccer.
Marion Lay also spoke in support of the review and Serwetnyk's larger ambition. The Olympian and active promoter of women in sport said only 17 per cent of Canada's Olympic team coaches are women, although Canadian women participate on near equal footing with men. Canada is among the world's top five countries when it comes to the number of girls and women who participate in sport but is ranked 35th in terms of women who coach and lead national programs.
Equal participation is an important achievement, said Lay. The goal now is to increase the number of women in sport leadership roles, using the excitement and attention of the Women's World Cup.
"One sport will be the catalyst for all sports," said Lay. "If we start now, we will have time."
Serwetnyk is hosting a fundraiser for Why The Women's World Cup Matters from 7 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 29 at the London Pub (700 Main St.).