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Canadian women's soccer team kicks off Celebration Tour with victory over New Zealand

·3 min read

OTTAWA — The Canadian women’s soccer team kicked off its Celebration Tour in style Saturday with a 5-1 victory in a friendly against New Zealand at TD Place.

The tour is to honour the squad for its gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. The teams will play again Tuesday in Montreal.

Jessie Fleming opened the scoring on a penalty kick in the 12th minute and Christine Sinclair made it a 2-0 game in the 41st minute.

Michelle Prince added a third goal for Canada in the 58th minute. New Zealand’s Ria Percival broke Stephanie Labbe’s bid for a clean sheet by scoring from the penalty spot in the 71st minute.

Adriana Leon provided insurance goals by scoring in the 75th and adding another in the 82nd minute.

The game was the first for the sixth-ranked Canadian women since beating Sweden in the Tokyo final on Aug. 6.

It was the also the first game for the national side on home soil since May 18, 2019, when Canada defeated Mexico 3-0 at Toronto's BMO Field in a warmup match ahead of that year's World Cup in France.

The team played 29 straight games outside of Canada before returning to meet the 23rd-ranked Football Ferns.

Canada and New Zealand have met in the two last two World Cup tournaments. The first meeting, in Edmonton in 2015, was a 0-0 draw. Four years later in Grenoble, Canada earned a 2-0 win.

The last meeting between the two teams was a 3-0 win for Canada at a tournament in China in November 2019.

Shortly before kickoff, Canada Soccer released a statement saying it would meet three requirements of the Canadian Women's National Team Players' Association.

The association called on the federation to commit to build a safe environment for athletes and apologize to those who have been "victimized and abused while playing the sport they love."

In addition, the association called on Canada Soccer to initiate a "transparent, independent review" at a mutually agreed time of the investigation of allegations against Bob Birarda during the time when he was employed by the federation, "to understand fully what occurred and to develop recommendations and best practices to better protect athletes."

Birarda, a former coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Canada Soccer's women's teams, was charged last December with sexual offences involving four people.

The B.C. Prosecution Service said Birarda was facing six counts of sexual exploitation, two counts of sexual assault and one count of child luring. The alleged offences occurred in North Vancouver, Burnaby and West Vancouver between January 1988 and March 25, 2008.

More than a dozen women who played for the Whitecaps and were part of Canada's under-20 talent pool around 2008 have come forward to allege Birarda acted inappropriately with members of the team.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Birarda made a court appearance last December and was released from custody under strict conditions. He is scheduled to appear in a North Vancouver court on Thursday.

Birarda was dismissed by both the Whitecaps and Canada Soccer in 2008.

The association also called for the full implementation of the Independent Safe Sport Mechanism, and called on the federal government to protect vulnerable athletes by making the ISSM mandatory for all national sport organizations by the end of the year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2021.

Darren Desaulniers, The Canadian Press

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