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Halifax the latest city to sign up for the Project 8 women's pro soccer league


Halifax, in the form of the Atlantic Women’s Football Club, is the latest city to join Project 8, the women's professional soccer league taking shape across Canada.

The brainchild of former Canadian international Diana Matheson, Project 8 announced last week that six franchises have submitted applications to Canada Soccer to join the new league. Those applications for professional club admission will be considered at the governing body's annual general meeting in early May in Montreal.

Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto were the first to come on board. On Tuesday, Halifax officially joined them.

"Halifax is a soccer city," said Courtney Sherlock, co-founder and CEO of the Halifax entry. "The support is just phenomenal. We're very encouraged and truly believe that people will come out and support our team as well."

Sherlock is a veterinarian and entrepreneur with ownership in six hospitals.

"Nothing to do with soccer ever, other than my children who've played," she said with a laugh.

A mother of three, Sherlock's 13-year-old and 17-year-old daughter both play soccer. She also has a 15-year-old son.

Matheson, who is co-founder of Project 8 along with Thomas Gilbert, describes Sherlock as a pleasure to work with — an entrepreneur who has built "very successful businesses before."

"She knows fully what she's getting into," she added. "She's tackled it from Day 1 with such experience and passion. She doesn't come from soccer. She just comes from real strong business fundamentals.

"It's her home market. She's excited about bringing women's pro soccer to Halifax and what that means for the community. And for women in sport and women in business."

The Halifax franchise has three investors so far with Miriam Zitner and Adam Baggs joining Sherlock.

Zitner is an entrepreneur currently involved with Carbon to Sea, a non-profit initiative evaluating whether ocean alkalinity enhancement (OAE) can safely remove and store billions of tons of CO2. Baggs is CEO of Maplewave, a software company.

Sherlock was introduced to Zitner by a mutual friend who knew both had kids who played soccer. Zitner and a group had already had some meetings with Project 8 and Sherlock soon joined the consortium.

"What was needed was someone to put up their hand and say that they have capacity and resources. And I said 'Well that's me. What am I waiting for? I should just do it?'" said Sherlock.

"I thought it was a great opportunity to make a mark on the world and do something that's going to mean a lot to a lot of people," she added.

Sherlock plans to be active with the club "as long as the need me."

"But ultimately my goal is to hire people who are way better at this than I am," she added. "I need to surround myself with people who are going to be as passionate about it as we are."

Halifax is already home to the Canadian Premier League's Halifax Wanderers. Sherlock says the city-owned Wanderers Field is one option for a venue for the women's side.

The CPL team is not involved with Sherlock's group although Wanderers founder and president Derek Martin, in a statement to The Canadian Press, said: "We fully support the growth of women's soccer in both our region and this country, however, so we look forward to learning more."

"The Wanderers have done an amazing job in that market making it a soccer city," said Matheson.

She saw it firsthand when the Canadian women played there Oct. 31, beating Brazil 2-0 in a friendly.

"Small stadium, nice and intimate and it's right downtown … The players love playing there and I think it will be an attractive market to bring some Canadian players back to Canada," she said.

Matheson's plan is to field eight teams starting in 2025, although she says the league could go ahead with six — which is the minimum for a pro league under Canada Soccer bylaws.

"We've still got several active conversation going in a few other markets … Whether it's six, seven or eight (franchises) for 2025 is still to be seen. We'll keep pushing here for the next little while. And then when we know for sure what the number's going to be for 2025, we'll share that with everyone."

She said the fifth and sixth franchises are still working behind the scenes.

"Nether was ready to announce the market and their ownership before submitting to the AGM (Canada Soccer annual general meeting)," she said.

The popularity of the PWHL and the buzz over the NCAA women's basketball tournament has further shown that women's sports has a large and eager audience.

"For those of us living it, it's less of a surprise obviously," said Matheson, who won 206 caps for Canada from 2003 to 2020.

"But even I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the numbers out there," she added.

Added Sherlock: "We should have a national (women's) league years and years ago, But you know what they say. The next best time is now."


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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2024.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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