Wed, Jun 12, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Goalkeeper Labbe blazing trail for Canada in France

AFP, CARY, North Carolina

Canada goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe blocks a shot in their Women’s World Cup Group E match against Cameroon at Stade de La Mosson in Montpellier, France, on Monday. Canada won 1-0.

Photo: Reuters

Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe, who is right in the firing line for Canada at the women’s World Cup in France, knows all about the fight for equality in a male-dominated sport.

The 32 year-old is the player who wanted to take on the men at their own game, literally.

After bringing home a bronze medal for Canada in the 2016 Olympics, Labbe sought to rekindle a dying passion for soccer by training with a professional Canadian men’s team.

She joined the Calgary Foothills, a minor league club that serve as a feeder outfit for Major League Soccer in the US, in a bid to keep sharp and show her credentials.

“As a goalkeeper, I think it’s really good because you’re facing fast shots, hard shots, the speed of the game is really quick,” said Labbe, who grew up playing on men’s hockey and soccer teams, training with the men.

Labbe’s performances were such that she ended up in the team for a 4-0 win in a pre-season game, but the overseeing Canadian Professional Development League barred her from featuring in any future matches, insisting on a “gender-specific league.”

“It was difficult to be told that you can’t play because of something that’s completely out of your control,” Labbe said. “It’s not something that I can go home and work on or change. My gender is my gender.”

Despite her frustrations, Labbe hopes her efforts inspire other women “not to limit themselves because of rules and because of gender.”

“If you can put yourself in an environment where you’re going to be pushed and you can show that you can overcome challenges with skill and pace ... that’s really important for development, she said. “I think it’s really important we celebrate those women.”

She now turns out for the North Carolina Courage in the American National Women’s Soccer League, in which she is put through her paces in training sessions by a male goalkeeping coach, Nathan Thackery.

“Hold, drive, balance, good!” Thackery said as he put Labbe through her paces on the training field, peppering her with shots.

“It’s always kind of pushing me, keeping me on the edge of my limits,” she said of the sessions.

Among her club teammates, Labbe — who started for Canada when they began their World Cup campaign against Cameroon in Montpellier on Monday — is known for her humility.

“She has a ton of accolades, but she’s more of a silent leader,” Courage defender Merritt Mathias said.

As for Labbe’s quest for gender parity, Mathias said that “it’s because of people like her and her success that we’ll keep driving this fight forward to get equality — if not for us, then for the younger generation.”

This will be Labbe’s third World Cup, and she is hoping to go further than in 2015, when Canada lost in the quarter-finals as hosts.

“We want to bring home that trophy,” Labbe said. “We’re also realistic in that we realize there are five or six other teams that are going in and saying the same thing.”

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