The biggest sporting event in B.C. Place Stadium’s 40th anniversary year starred a record-setter born only one week before the venue opened.
It was also the climax of an up-and-down year for Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair, the all-time goals leader in world soccer.
“Captain Canada” was part of the one-day strike at February’s SheBelieves Cup. The women’s national team wasn’t getting anywhere with the Canadian Soccer Association in contract talks early in the World Cup year. The obviously distracted team finished last in the four-nation, U.S.-hosted tournament, which foreshadowed its performance in the most-important tournament since it won Olympic gold in Tokyo in 2021.
Sinclair’s biggest impact of 2023 may have been in the House of Commons hearing room on March 9 when she unloaded on the CSA, its former president Nick Bontis and his replacement Charmaine Crooks.
“As a team, we do not trust Canada Soccer to be open and honest as we continue to negotiate for not only fair and equitable compensation and treatment, but for the future of our program,” Sinclair testified to the Canadian Heritage committee, which was studying governance of federally funded sport organizations.
Sinclair added her voice to the deafening calls for reform in Canada’s sport system, finally answered nine months later when the Liberal government announced the “Future of Sport in Canada Commission.”
Sinclair could afford to speak out. With a 190-goal career spanning 23 years, she earned endorsements from Subway, CIBC, Visa, Nike and Frito Lay, negotiated by the Envision Sports and Entertainment agency.
The national team finally got an interim contract, but it came right in the middle of the disappointing win, loss and draw campaign at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Hopes were high for the defending Olympic champions. But Sinclair’s saved penalty kick in the scoreless opener against Nigeria set the tone for the early exit, punctuated by a 4-0 loss to host Australia, which assured players only US$30,000 each in prize money.
“Sincy” signalled the end of her international career by hanging up her boots for an Instagram photo on Oct. 19. She confirmed the next day she would play another National Women’s Soccer League season with the Portland Thorns FC.
The CSA arranged a friendly rematch with Australia for Dec. 5 at B.C. Place, which temporarily rebranded as Christine Sinclair Place. Sinclair didn’t net number 191 in the building where Canada disappointed in the 2015 Women’s World Cup quarterfinal. But she did set-up Quinn’s header for the only goal of the match before a crowd announced as 48,112.
Sinclair returned the next night to headline a charity gala for her eponymous foundation, which already had $250,000 in the bank. The NDP government declared Dec. 12 Christine Sinclair Day in B.C., representing both her jersey number and the year she led Canada to bronze for the first time at the London Olympics.
Other highlights (and lowlights) of 2023:
Richest birthday present: On his 18th birthday, July 17, North Vancouver’s Connor Bedard signed a three-year contract worth as much as US$13.35 million with the team that drafted him first overall, the Chicago Blackhawks. The most valuable player of the World Junior Championship stands to earn even more, thanks to endorsement deals negotiated by Newport Sports Management with Hyundai, Lululemon and others.
Most awkward departure: Bruce, there it is. Bruce, there he goes. The Canucks’ Jan. 22 firing of affable coach Bruce Boudreau was another low point in a franchise that has had too many to list. Replacement Rick Tocchet and general manager Patrick Allvin began a mini-rebuild a week later, by sending captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders.
Biggest switch: Goodbye Bell. Hello Telus. Bell hung up on its jersey sponsorship deal after 11 seasons, so the Vancouver Whitecaps inked a new deal with fellow Robson Street dweller Telus. The club won both the Canadian Championship and Cascadia Cup and rewarded charismatic coach Vanni Sartini with a new contract on Oct. 21 before the regular season-ending draw with L.A. FC. When the defending champions returned for a Nov. 5 MLS Cup playoff match, part-owner Will Ferrell was in the entourage. But Whitecaps fans were not in a laughing mood after the controversial elimination.
Biggest sale: Diamond Baseball Holdings, owned by Silicon Valley’s Silver Lake Technology Management, acquired the Vancouver Canadians from 15-year owners Jake Kerr and Jeff Mooney for an undisclosed sum on April 4. The C’s are now part of a portfolio of 26 minor league franchises, including the Albuquerque Isotopes, Hickory Crawdads, Lansing Lugnuts and Rome Emperors. The Toronto Blue Jays’ High-A farm team won the Northwest League championship over the Seattle Mariners-affiliated Everett AquaSox at Nat Bailey Stadium on Sept. 17.
Biggest surprise: Few ticketholders at the Canucks’ Nov. 21 meeting with the San Jose Sharks knew they were in the company of royalty until Prince Harry dropped the puck. The organizing committee for the 2025 Vancouver-Whistler Invictus Games for wounded warriors was in damage control after the departure of the top two executives.
Best gimmick: The 17th hole, nicknamed “The Rink,” at the LPGA’s CKPC Women’s Open at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club. The raucous, hockey-inspired tee contained hockey rink boards on three sides, marshals outfitted in refereeing attire and beer-swilling fans. Fittingly, the tournament went to overtime. American Meghan Khang defeated South Korean Jin Young Ko in the Aug. 27 playoff.
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