OPINION | It's Here, It's Real: Elation Ensues Amid WNBA Expansion Announcement Of 'Canada's Team' | CBC Sports

Sports·Opinion

In a jam-packed press conference at a swanky downtown hotel, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league had awarded its 14th team to the City of Toronto. Mayor Olivia Chow proclaimed May 23, 2024 as WNBA Day in Toronto, another cherry on this massively delectable metaphoric cake.

New Toronto franchise enlisting country-wide support to feed into excitement

Shireen Ahmed · for CBC Sports

· Posted: May 23, 2024 7:38 PM EDT | Last Updated: 3 hours ago

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, left, Larry Tanenbaum of Kilmer Sports Ventures, centre, and WNBA Toronto team president Teresa Resch pose for a photo during the city’s expansion announcement on Thursday. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)It’s official. We knew it was happening. We knew it was coming. And now she’s here.

In a jam-packed press conference at a swanky downtown hotel, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that the league had awarded its 14th team to the City of Toronto.

Mayor Olivia Chow proclaimed May 23, 2024 as WNBA Day in Toronto, another cherry on this massively delectable metaphoric cake.

Among the people in the room adorned with the WNBA (lovingly called “the W”) announcement logo were Canada basketball legends Sylvia Sweeney, Kim Gaucher, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Tamara Tatham. Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri was flanked by Scottie Barnes and franchise alum Kyle Lowry.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on stage for the event, and it was reported that Canadian superstar artist Drake was there. I didn’t see him but this day was hardly about him — it was about the women who built a foundation, the girls that will see role models step on the court, and it is about the opportunities that Canadian athletes will have to play at home.

The excitement in the room was palpable. Many reporters and journalists from the Canadian sports media scene were in attendance. There were seasoned reporters and ones just starting their careers. Broadcasters, writers and social media creatives were all capturing the moment.

I couldn’t help but feel my lip quivering when the actual announcement was made. Canada has a W team. It’s here. It’s real.

This entire story and announcement has been a wild ride. As the journalist with the team at CBC Sports and CBC News who broke the news of the bid and the subsequent story of the finalization of the bid, it has been professionally rewarding and personally enthralling.

I ran into Gaucher and heard her telling someone that this is a dream come true. Even exceptional players with storied careers truly felt elated because of today.

I’ve been able to watch the rise of women’s sports in the United States and Europe, but there was always a piece lacking in Canada. Until recently, we were the only country ranked in the top 10 for ice hockey, soccer or basketball who did not have a domestic league.

Allison Sandmeyer-Graves is the President of Canadian Women and Sport. I chatted with her about this announcement.

“Well, there’s absolutely, without a doubt, a global movement in this direction. Frankly, Canada has been behind relative to many of our peers,” she told me over Zoom.

“I have to give credit to our national teams and to the athletes being really outspoken about the fact that it’s really unacceptable that Canada doesn’t offer these opportunities to women right here on home soil. And people really started to take it seriously. It wasn’t long after that we heard there were serious conversations happening in boardrooms and in offices where they hadn’t happened before. I think the athletes advocating for themselves has a lot to do with this.”

While the WNBA is an expansion team, it brings its astounding talent to Canada. At present, there are only four Canadians in the W; Kia Nurse (Los Angeles Sparks), Bridget Carleton (Minnesota Lynx), Aaliyah Edwards (Washington Mystics), and Laeticia Amihere (Atlanta Dream).

Canada’s TeamBut growing the game also means expanding the fan base and testing out new markets.

Tanenbaum announced that the team would play games throughout the season in Montreal and Vancouver. This is music to the ears of women’s basketball fans across the country who might have been disappointed Toronto was the first Canadian city to get a team. Tanenbaum’s tenacity and dedication to getting a women’s professional team in Canada has not gone unnoticed.

It is a very clear example of not only a sound business decision but a move that should inspire and motivate other investors.

WATCH | Engelbert welcomes Toronto as WNBA’s 14th franchise:

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert officially announces Toronto as 14th franchiseCommissioner Cathy Engelbert announced that Toronto will be the 14th WNBA franchise, set to begin play in the 2026 season. The team has been awarded to Kilmer Sports Ventures, headed up by MLSE minority owner Larry Tannenbaum.

Branding the new franchise as “Canada’s Team” is a smart move. Not only does it give exposure to the first international team of the W, it also widens what basketball culture actually is. If it encompasses the whole country, it should also be inclusive and knowledgeable of the different types of basketball played in different communities.

I have written about different Canadian seasonal leagues like Hoop Queens and the Maritime Women’s Basketball Association. They add so much depth and opportunity. And I know that those involved with those leagues are equally excited.

‘Something you dream about’Tammy Sutton-Brown was drafted to the W in 2001. She is a vanguard of Canadian women’s basketball.

“This day is incredible,” she told me after the press conference. “This day is something you dream about. As a Canadian, you dream that you can play in front of your family and your friends on Canadian soil. So now, there are opportunities to come to Canada. It really is a dream come true.”

It has taken women visionaries, dedicated athletes and their families to generate progress. There are women who have retired from sport but can at least appreciate this league and the continued expansion of successful professional sport in Canada.

Women’s sports are imperfect (nothing is perfect) but also have a capacity to be generous and open to dynamic change.

When Engelbert said that getting a team to Canada was like “moving a boulder up a hill,” I felt that deeply. Sometimes, being a woman in sports media can feel like we’re pushing similar boulders. And it’s days like this and moments like this that offer levity and sincere happiness.

As for the franchise, enlisting Canada’s support and feeding into the excitement is not only a fantastic game plan but something that Canadian sport deserves.

Canada’s national sporting symbol might be hockey, but its new favourite is its WNBA team.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *