As I prepared to return home from the Women’s World Cup in Australia, it is fair to say that Canada’s premature and heartbreaking exit caused a bevy of emotions.
The team, staff, media covering the match, and, of course, the team’s supporters across Canada, were all flooded with everything from dismay, shock, frustration — all parts of grief.
Then there were the practical implications of the loss for me. Logistics needed to be worked out, tickets needed to be changed and hotel reservations had to be cancelled. It goes without saying that Canadian media anticipated being in Australia far longer than our fates decided.
Although I will continue to cover the tournament, it will be from the comfort of my home or office — blasting with air conditioning as Toronto swelters in the August heat. I packed up all the hoodies and track pants that I have greatly enjoyed wearing. I love cold weather and despite having to purchase a Vicks nose inhaler, I have enjoyed this season Down Under tremendously.
Soccer has always brought me happiness and despair. It is exhilarating to play, thrilling to watch, and a joy to cover professionally. Yes, the hours and travel can be arduous, but I love my job. There is no doubt about that.
WATCH: Tearful Jessie Fleming hopes for redemption at Paris 2024 Olympics:
There are defining moments of one’s’ career and covering Canada’s loss may be one of mine.
How do you ask about the result, response and reaction in a way that isn’t more upsetting for players crying in front of you? When their faces look defeated, discouraged and the mood is the polar opposite of joyous? When players are taking blame for the result or apologizing to the country for disappointing them? When this year has been taxing on this team in ways that shouldn’t have been? When this may very well be veteran Christine Sinclair’s last appearance with the senior team? How do you effectively produce work when navigating so much heaviness is required?
In this whole process I have been contemplating joy and what it means to the beautiful game.
With Monday’s match many contemplated the pain of loss. We saw a beloved team brutally ousted from this competition. Were the fates against Canada? Was it stress from off the pitch? The dispute with Canada Soccer? Was it a poorly executed game plan? Was it that Australia just wanted it more? What I do know is that all of those things can be true and all of them can be difficult to digest.
WATCH: Sinclair says early exit a ‘wake-up call’ for Canada Soccer:
Having to cover the situation with empathy while simultaneously offering reaction and perspective to folks back home is not easy. I was feeling both numb and like something was swirling inside of me, but I couldn’t let that impact my work. I filed my story but I didn’t sleep much that night. By 4 a.m., my editor instructed me to put my phone down. The day after Canada’s loss, I stayed away from a lot of social media. I heard from family and colleagues (and even a reader who contacted me) that some of the commentary back home was unforgiving and bordered on mean.
Instead of watching any other matches, the next day I opted to sleep, organize my room and pack, and then went for a delicious dinner with colleagues. We laughed and had a chance to enjoy each others’ company without a looming deadline. It was an evening of appreciation and dare I say, fun.
On Wednesday I went to watch Brazil play Jamaica. I wanted to feel happiness again and not leave Australia with a pit in my stomach. The odds were mostly in favour of the South American Canaries. The Reggae Girlz had a difficult time financially and no one foresaw them advancing.
But this World Cup had different plans. As the minutes faded away on a scoreless result, the standings in Group F showed that Brazil would be eliminated and with them Marta Viera de Silva. The Brazilian legend is on par with Sinclair for her number of World Cups played (six) and influence on the sport. Marta has inspired generations of players and many of the Jamaican players commented on how she was their inspiration. It is fair to say that Marta and Sinclair are parallel icons and living legends of the game.
Two of the best to ever play the game 🐐🐐<br><br>Nothing but respect between Canada’s Christine Sinclair and Brazil’s Marta 🇨🇦🇧🇷 <a href=”https://t.co/wRuVrcK1Bd”>pic.twitter.com/wRuVrcK1Bd</a>
While in the stadium, I witnessed immense sadness from players, fans, and even the Brazilian media. One woman left the media tribune with tears streaming down her face.
Those emotions were so raw and so familiar to me. Is there a place for grace and understanding in all of this? A way to navigate feeling emotion but having to be professional as your heart is crushed into pieces?
After a match, we immediately focus on work. We report, get comments and responses in the mixed zone from players and ask salient questions in the press conference.
I asked my friend, Júlia Belas Trindade, a freelance journalist from Brazil, about what she was feeling because at this moment she had to go through the same motions that I did just two days ago.
“It’s kind of like you try to be as objective as possible, as rational as possible to think about what went wrong and what went right, ask the right questions and not let emotion get in the way of everything, but honestly it’s all about emotion” she told me as we waited for Jamaica’s coach, Lorne Donaldson, to come into the media room. “I am compartmentalizing and I will have a good cry after the press conference, it’s good to let it out.
“Football is all about passion and I wouldn’t be in this position if I didn’t love the game and if I didn’t love the Brazilian women’s national team.”
We commiserated and agreed that although it was tough, being able to focus on work was helpful. We hugged each other and said goodbye.
Jamaica’s unexpected celebration at advancing is in contrast to Brazil’s pain. The glory of South Africa meant the misery of Italians. And Sweden beat Argentina, eliminating that country’s team just months after their male counterparts brought home the World Cup trophy from Qatar.
What I can say is that it would be nice if everyone won, but that isn’t sport. Soccer can be crushing while simultaneously providing jubilation. Do Sinclair and Marta deserve a better memory from their last World Cup matches? Of course, but the endings will not always be what we want them to be. There will be ebbs and flows. There will be pain and there will be tremendous loss. And our heroes may not always get the send off we want for them. But, again, that is sport.
It doesn’t reduce their contributions because they are embedded into history. Moments of grief challenge sports media professionals to focus on the task at hand on a deadline and then manage the feelings. That’s part of the job and I want to be exceptional. But just like professional athletes, some days and some results are better than others.
Author Khalil Gibran once wrote, “The more that sorrow is carved into your soul, the more joy you can contain,” and at this point, Canada’s soccer fans and players are superbly ready for a lot of joy.