WNBA's Toronto expansion will help amplify culture of women's basketball in Canada

As CBC Sports senior contributor Shireen Ahmed writes, there are still a lot of questions to be answered about the Toronto WNBA franchise, but it assures the opportunity for young fans and players, alike, to dream big and have a chance to shine on home soil.

Canadian franchise creates space for more growth, opportunity, exposure on home soil

A large crowd is on-hand to watch a women's basketball game.
Toronto's Scotiabank Arena plays host to a WNBA pre-season game between the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky in 2023. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

When the news of a WNBA team coming to Toronto last week, my phone blew up — as the kids say.

From LinkedIn to WhatsApp I couldn't keep track of the happy emojis, the questions about where to get season tickets and a barrage of other happy pronouncements and requests for more information.

Being able to break this story is definitely a badge of honour and pride for me, and the CBC Sports team. The response was absolutely incredible. Family, friends and fans were commenting on the tweets and on the Instagram posts with messages of jubilation.

I have never seen such a tremendous outpouring of excited and positive comments on anything I've ever written. Normally the comments are not as happy or making some disparaging remark about women's sports. There were no rude comments about my own identity and what I look like. In fact, the comments (which my editor routinely advises me not to read) were happy and exuberant.

WATCH | How sports fans are reacting to potential Toronto WNBA expansion team:

How sports fans are reacting to Toronto’s WNBA expansion team

1 month ago
Duration 2:48
CBC Sports has learned that Kilmer Sports Inc., headed by Toronto billionaire Larry Tanenbaum, has been granted an expansion franchise with the WNBA. The official announcement is set for May 23 and the team is expected to begin playing in 2026. Ali Chiasson spoke to excited Torontonians outside Scotiabank Arena.

There are a few comments about readers asking questions like "why is it always Toronto and not other parts of the country?" But those are questions that can be directed to venture capitalists — not me. I was on Metro Morning the day the story broke and a caller phoned in to say that he was a happy dad but concerned it was not a woman owner.

While I am the first person to advocate for women owning teams and franchises, the story was only out for a couple of hours. Yes, we want more women coaches, officials and front office medical staff. Absolutely, but it's not a fair criticism before we know the details.

As the WNBA grows in Canada I hope there will be women owners in other expansion teams in other cities. I truly believe that sports can create opportunities for women and for communities economically and athletically.

As far as those opportunities go, Kayla Alexander couldn't agree more. The Canadian Olympic Team member and professional player is elated the team is coming to Toronto.

"I have been playing professionally for the last 11 years, and I have had to play out of the country for the last 16," she told me. "I have had to go to the USA, France, Poland, Belgium, South Korea, Australia … I've been and played everywhere, but not in Canada."

There is a drain of athletic talent to colleges and universities in the United States. One of the benefits to the economy and to our own society is keeping our talent at home.

The responses from other Canadian players were also positive.

"When you build the house, people will come," said WNBA veteran and team Canada player Natalie Achonwa. 

WATCH | Canadian WNBA vet Achonwa excited about league's Toronto expansion:

'When you build the house, people will come,' says WNBA veteran

1 month ago
Duration 0:54
Team Canada Olympian and WNBA veteran Natalie Achonwa is excited about the expansion of women's professional basketball into Canada. She says the time has come for investors to jump in and support women's sports by increasing financial support and meeting the audience's demand for bigger products.

Before the WNBA pre-season game in Edmonton between the Seattle Storm and the LA Sparks, Kia Nurse said, "The energy and the buzz is there for everybody and our leagues are continuing to grow. It feels like we're getting to that top where it's going to boil over in the right direction."

While Nurse plays for the LA Sparks, she is proudly from Hamilton, Ont.,  and has always been a strong advocate of growing the sport at home.

Nurse's prediction that it could boil over into an expansion team in Toronto proved correct. A few days after the sold-out game in Edmonton, CBC Sports confirmed the story.

2024 is definitely a year of growth and expansion and memorable moments in women's sport in Canada. To say that it feels like there is a movement is an understatement.

When my own daughter was playing competitive basketball and soccer, I remember thinking: if she chooses to go pro, where would she go? When we create opportunities for young girls at home to continue their relationship with sport, it solidifies a powerful connection. And women and girls deserve this.

A women's basketball player holds a ball in one hand and points with the other.
Malia, 15, is a member of the Kia Nurse EYBL Elite Program. She is among the many excited about the future prospects of women's basketball in Canada following the WNBA's planned expansion to Toronto. (Submitted by Lisa Noga)

One of my friends has a daughter who plays with Kia Nurse EYBL Elite Program. Her mom, Lisa Noga, was excited because it not only amplifies the culture of women's basketball it means we are heading in the right direction.

"Having a team here in Toronto means we are quite literally moving the goal post beyond the border of the USA, making room for more growth, more opportunity, and more exposure of our homegrown women's Canadian talent," Noga said to me over text.

Her daughter, Malia, is 15 and agreed with her mom. She said she feels excited about the promise of professional ball in Canada and the dream of playing at home in front of her friends and family.

It may sound simple but playing at home is not something that is always possible for women athletes — at least not in Canada.

And this is the same thing that athletes from every women's sport have underlined. Playing at home is important. It matters.

"I am so happy for this next generation of young girls and athletes coming up in Canada," Alexander added. "If they decide they want to pursue basketball as a profession, they have the opportunity to play in front of their family, friends and loved ones."

WATCH | Aaliyah Edwards aims to inspire next generation:

Aaliyah Edwards on getting drafted and inspiring the next generation

2 months ago
Duration 0:49
The Canadian forward was recently drafted 6th overall by the Washington Mystics.

I've been privileged to be able to cover many developments and growth. I'm excited about the opportunities that this new team affords and the chances for women in sports media, sports business to get opportunities as well.

There are still a lot of questions about the team and a lot of things we don't actually know. Who will be coaching? Who will be in the front office? Are they accepting applications for Integrated Support Staff for medical and nutrition?

All the queries should be answered in due course. And more developments such as charter flights are kicking off this new WNBA season. And of course, an incoming homegrown star in Aaliyah Edwards.

In the meantime, I'll wait patiently for the day I get to cover the first official WNBA event in Toronto.

Then I will think about all of the other professional women's leagues that will follow and the young people who will dream big and have a chance to shine — north of the border.

WATCH | What a Toronto WNBA team means for the city, players and fans:

Toronto is getting a WNBA team. What it means for the city, players and fans

1 month ago
Duration 4:06
Women's professional basketball is coming to Toronto in May 2026. CBC Sports has learned that Kilmer Sports Inc., headed by Toronto billionaire Larry Tanenbaum, has been granted an expansion franchise with the Women's National Basketball Association.


Shireen Ahmed

Senior Contributor

Shireen Ahmed is a multi-platform sports journalist, a TEDx speaker, mentor, and an award-winning sports activist who focuses on the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. She is an industry expert on Muslim women in sports, and her academic research and contributions have been widely published. She is co-creator and co-host of the “Burn It All Down” feminist sports podcast team. In addition to being a seasoned investigative reporter, her commentary is featured by media outlets in Canada, the USA, Europe and Australia. She holds an MA in Media Production from Toronto Metropolitan University where she now teaches Sports Journalism and Sports Media. You can find Shireen tweeting or drinking coffee, or tweeting about drinking coffee. She lives with her four children and her cat.

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