Sports·Opinion

As Christine Sinclair readies for her farewell, rivals from around the world pay tribute

As Christine Sinclair's international soccer career comes to a close, her many opponents over the years express their admiration for the legend known as "Sinc."

Canadian women's team captain plays final international match on Dec. 5 in Vancouver

Two women soccer players battle for the ball.
Christine Sinclair, right, and Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. battle during their semifinal match at the 2012 Olympics. The U.S. won the match. (The Associated Press)

As Canada's most beloved and storied soccer player readies for her international farewell, in Vancouver's BC Place that will be renamed for her for the night, Canadians are reflecting on Christine Sinclair's contributions on and off the pitch.

"Sinc" leaves an unparalleled legacy and although she remains in the beautiful game with her Portland team in the National Women's Soccer League, her days of leading Canada's national team will soon be over. She retires from international duty as the highest scoring player in history.

As expected, people are sharing their thoughts and memories of how she's represented Canada, her unbelievable records and numerous accolades. 

Over the next week, there will be no shortage of writers and content creators waxing poetic about Sinclair. And some of the most profound and heartwarming tributes will not be from her teammates but, ironically, from those whom she has played against for more than 20 years. Many of Sinclair's formidable opponents have also expressed their respect and fond regard for the prolific Canadian.

Megan Rapinoe, her former college teammate and talisman of Sinclair's most famed rivals — the U.S. women's team — declared her the best player to never win the Ballon d'Or. 

Sinclair's piercing focus, dedication and drive have cemented Canada as a force to be reckoned with at the highest echelons of the beautiful game. It makes sense that some of the most memorable commentary on her legendary career are from players who sat in different dressing rooms and at whom she was directly aiming her shots. 

I always wondered how her opponents were feeling as she went tearing through their end of the pitch. What are they feeling as she leaves her place as captain of Canada's team? How did Sinclair affect or influence them? 

I reached out to players from all corners of the world who have played against Sinclair at different points throughout her international career. Players from four continents replied enthusiastically to contribute to the chorus of voices singing her praises. And it also came as no surprise that Sinclair's playing style was not the only remarked-upon thing; her leadership has made its imprint on the world.

Tiffany Cameron is Canadian-born but plays for Jamaica's Reggae Girlz and is currently starting at Real Betis Féminas in Spain. She was once part of Canada's national program with Sinclair.

"I've always admired how humble Christine has been and her leadership on and off the field," Cameron told me. "It was a privilege to play with such an outstanding player and I strive to emulate some of the skills she has acquired throughout her years of playing."

Most recently, Canada won a friendly against Jamaica to earn a spot at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. In eight months, Canada will defend its Olympic title without Sinclair. Canada has not known women's soccer without Sinclair for decades. She has been a staple of the program and a stalwart during its success and struggles.

Retired Nigerian soccer legend Ayisat Yusuf first faced Sinclair in 2002 at the Under 20 Women's World Cup. But what she will never forget is Sinclair's resilience despite tough situations.

A soccer player consoles an opponent on the field.
Sinclair, left, consoles U.S. midfielder Lindsey Horan after Canada won their semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"She is an amazing player and great leader," Yusuf told me via text message. "She has a real passion for football and she has the charisma to challenge difficulty with her never-give-up spirit on and off the pitch. It hurt her when she lost a penalty against Nigeria at this year's World Cup, which is the same for any other player as well because every player wants to give their best for the country." 

I remembered that penalty kick and Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie's outstanding performance. When commenting on the match afterward, Nnadozie explained the save and Sinclair very aptly.

"She's one of the best. The last time we played against them, she scored on me. I was very angry. I told myself, 'This is the opportunity to make things right.' So it's 1-1 for me and Sinclair," Nnadozie said with a shy smile after that match. The fact that she saved one of Sinclair's penalty kicks is huge for her professional and personal record. 

Players who have been in Sinclair's direct line of fire have complimented her power, and her character. Hedvig Lindhal is Sweden's longest-serving women's goalkeeper and has stopped a lot of shots, including some from Sinclair. Lindahl was in net when Canada beat Sweden to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

"We've played each other numerous times, over the years," the now-retired Lindahl told me during a  Zoom call.

She recalled that she first met Sinclair in the early 2000s when Sinclair went over to train with Linköping FC where Lindahl was playing. Lindahl said you could already see that Sinclair had something special about her even in a few training sessions and it was an honour to train with Sinclair. Lindahl remarked that Sinclair's presence and her consistency are as valuable as her skill. 

"And also what I think about with her is that she has been some sort of constant figure, like someone who you can turn to and feel grounded, basically," she said. "Because she's been stable. She's always been there. She's always performed."

There's no question Sinclair's dedication to Canada's success has impacted international players. 

"She's a global inspiration to female footballers around the world. When you think of Canadian football you think of Christine Sinclair," Morocco national team and Tottenham Hotspurs forward Rosella Ayane said. "Not only of her incredible achievements on the pitch, but how she has paved the way and left the game in a much more professional space for the next generation of female footballers around the world."

Ayane plays for a country who had their first World Cup berth this past summer, and has witnessed Sinclair make history not only on the field, but also off it through advocating for sport in Canada and also supporting the creation of a new league here at home

Sinclair's resilience and determination to focus on football has also been the subject of some hilarity. When congratulating her on a great career, the USWNT social media account noticed that she had blocked them on X (formerly Twitter). 

Sinclair explained the situation in her usual nonchalant manner and I think it was one of the greatest moments in women's soccer I have seen. Sinclair's leadership and unwavering commitment to Canada aside, she's also a fierce competitor and that manifested by blocking out the unnecessary noise. 

One can deduce that part of her success has not only been her skill and work ethic, but also her sincerity and unapologetic focus. Her will to help the team succeed has always been a priority even if it meant shelving discussions about her own achievements. 

"The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think about Christine Sinclair is her incredible humility," Emma Checker said. Checker played with Australian national women's team and now plays with Melbourne Victory Football Club. "I have always admired her team first mentality regardless of the individual accolades that have come her way. She is a true legend of the game."

Legend is a word that Cameron also uses to describe Sinclair.

"I think players who gain the most respect are the ones who are selfless while also being able to make a huge difference on and off the field," Cameron said. 

One of Sinclair's most precious gifts to soccer is her ability to impact people all over the world. Her humble reign over the most beloved sport in the world makes her not only a hometown hero but a global icon of sport.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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