Canadian soccer star barred from playing men’s soccer overwhelmed by support

Stephanie Labbé arrives home from the Rio 2016 Summer Games Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016. Charles Taylor, Global News

As an Olympic bronze medallist, Spruce Grove’s Stephanie Labbé is used to overcoming adversity. But the 31-year-old is now in one of the biggest fights of her life and she has young athletes – especially young girls – from around the world in her corner.

“I want to be an advocate of young boys and girls doing whatever they can to push themselves and put themselves in situations where they can develop and work – and be challenged every day.”

Inspired by fellow Canadian athletes Hayley Wickenheiser and Shannon Szabados, Labbé decided follow her own advice and push herself to a whole new level, earning a spot on the Calgary Foothills FC men’s soccer team.

The team plays out of the Premier Development League, a league that threw up the offside flag. They refused to let her play, saying 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.”

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READ MORE: Canadian soccer star Stephanie Labbé can’t play in Premier Development League because she’s a woman

To her credit, Labbé refuses to back down.

“I’m putting in my challenges and I’m doing my fight behind the scenes. Unfortunately nothing’s really changed there.”

But what has changed is that Labbé has gone from an Olympian and Canadian soccer star, to the poster girl for inclusivity.

She’s been overwhelmed with support and most recently, rewarded with a trip to Europe to take in one of the biggest soccer games of the year, the UEFA Champions League Finals in Kiev, Ukraine.

“To be inspired by those athletes and be inspired by a moment like this will be something that I’ll remember forever.”

She’ll be taking in both games with her partner and fellow Olympian, Georgia Simmerling. The trip was given to them by DAZN – an over-the-top subscription service that live streams sports.

The company’s head of PR Paulo Senra said it was important to not only send them to the men’s final but also the women’s final in Ukraine.

“If she’s gonna be inspired to do more in her career, why not get that inspiration from female athletes as well,” Senra said.

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It’s also an opportunity to see firsthand, how UEFA values all soccer stars. UEFA launched the #EqualGame campaign to spotlight diversity in the sport, and its stars from the grassroots up to the elite level.

The trip is a dream come true, and Labbé hopes it will show just how important it is for athletes to be judged for their performance on the field rather than for other things like gender. She prides herself in taking her own journey and hopes others will be inspired to carve their own path.

“Carving your own path and not listening to what other people are always telling you – what the best thing for you is – really listening to yourself and what you believe is the best opportunity for you to be challenged and to grow and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone because that’s where dreams can happen.”

The women’s Champions League Final will be played on May 24 between Wolfsburg and Lyon. The men’s final will be played on May 26 between Real Madrid and Liverpool.

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