League denies top women's soccer player from playing on men's team

Stephanie Labbé is a 2016 bronze-medal Olympian considered to be one of the best women’s soccer players in Canada.

In February, after she finished on medical leave for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit, the team gave up its rights to her services, leaving the goaltender open to the league’s distribution process.

When she wasn’t claimed by another NWSL team, Labbé, 31, declined to seek an overseas soccer job, and instead focused on earning a job with the Calgary Foothills FC men’s soccer team.

“The place I am in my career right now, I just feel like I’m ready for something completely different and ready to challenge myself in ways that I’ve never been challenged before,” Labbé told CBC in March. “This [the men’s game] is where all the arrows were pointing and I started reaching out to different coaches of different clubs.” 

While neither Labbé nor the Spirit explained the medical leave, Labbé has been open about her struggles with depression. She also described her relationship with the Spirit as “toxic” after she returned from the Rio Olympics.

See Labbé through the years: 

9 PHOTOS
Canadian soccer player Stephanie Labbe
See Gallery
Canadian soccer player Stephanie Labbe
ERFURT, GERMANY - APRIL 09: Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe of Canada gestures during the women's international friendly match between Germany and Canada at Steigerwald Stadion on April 9, 2017 in Erfurt, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)
June 15, 2015: Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe (#21) of Canada during the warm up before the FIFA 2015 Women's World Cup Group A match between Netherlands and Canada at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Steven Kingsman/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
Canada's Stephanie Labbe is seen before a pre-Women's World Cup friendly against England in Hamilton, Ontario May 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ GEOFF ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)
EDMONTON, AB - JUNE 03: Stephanie Labbe #21 of Canada during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 portrait session at the Delta Edmonton South on June 3, 2015 in Edmonton, Canada. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
21 FEB 2016: Canada Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe (18) warms up before the Women's Olympic qualifying soccer final between Canada and USA at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire) (Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Stephanie Labbe of Canada gives instructions to her defence during the Women's Olympic Football Bronze Medal match between Brazil and Canada at Arena Corinthians on August 19, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe of Canada celebrates with her medal following her teams victory during the Women's Olympic Football Bronze Medal match between Brazil and Canada at Arena Corinthians on August 19, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Canadian Women's National Team Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe (1) gives her defense instructions during the friendly soccer match between the US Women's National Team and Canada on November 12, 2017 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Canadian Women's National Team Goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe (1) takes a goal kick during the friendly soccer match between the US Women's National Team and Canada on November 12, 2017 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Foothills play in the Premier Development League, which works as a minor league sponsored by U.S. and Canadian professional soccer leagues. It has been a mid-way point for college players who don’t make the jump directly to a league like MLS.

Labbé received encouragement from coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. during her tryout process.

“She’s a super-strong personality and the players have taken to her,” Wheeldon told CBC. “All I said to her is we’re a forward-thinking club, we’re always open-minded and players are based on ability. And if she can come in and perform at the level that we need her, then yeah we’re open-minded to put her into the action, no problem.”

On Wednesday, after playing in preseason games for the Foothills, Labbé learned from the league that she is not eligible to play in the men’s league because she is a woman.

The PDL explained its decision in a statement.

“Like virtually all of our peer leagues around the world, the PDL has gender-based eligibility requirements, which we applied consistently in this case. Although our specific mission relates to the men’s game, we applaud all that female players have done to move the sport of soccer forward in North America. Stephanie Labbé, in particular, has had tremendous success, and we wish her the best as she continues to pursue her career goals.”

Labbé responded via her blog.

“I have given it my best fight and feel myself fitting in, but unfortunately not everyone is as open minded about this situation. After inquiring to the league, The PDL’s initial response was that as per the rules ‘The PDL is a men’s league’ and ‘given that the PDL is a gender-based league, women are ineligible to play.'”

Wheeldon Jr. told CBC in a statement that the team would not appeal the decision. Labbé said she wanted the team to focus on its season while she plans to fight the ruling in the offseason.

“It shouldn’t matter what gender you are but that’s where we are right now and it’s a battle,” Labbé said. “I’m very passionate about equal rights.”

More from Yahoo Sports:
Report details Redskins cheerleaders’ uneasy trip to Costa Rica
Charles Barkley apologizes for wanting to punch Draymond Green
Wetzel: Drake has no business trying to start fights from the sideline
Dwyane Wade surprises Waffle House hero

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.