It’s been a topsy-turvy four months since COVID-19 put the sports world on hold. For Canadian national team midfielder Desiree Scott, it’s been full of uncertainty.
First, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed. Then her National Women’s Soccer League season was temporarily put on hold. And now, as her Utah Royals begin their journey at the league’s Challenge Cup, the 32-year-old Winnipeg native announced she would not be playing for personal reasons.
“This game is all I know and is beyond important to my heart,” she wrote on Twitter. “But one thing that is closer and dearer and has always come first is my family. I unfortunately will not be playing in the Challenge Cup. Beyond disappointed to not step on that field today but will see you soon.”
A Canada Soccer spokeswoman said Scott had returned to Winnipeg.
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Scott, the two-time Olympic bronze medallist nicknamed ‘The Destroyer’ for her brickwall play, is one of the longest-serving members of the Canadian side with 156 caps to her name.
To say it’s been a different summer than she anticipated would be an understatement. She told CBC Sports last week that her greatest challenge over the last four months has been answering some tough questions about her future.
“I’m one of the older players on my team, whether it’s Canada or the Utah Royals, and for a long time I kept wondering where is this heading, how long is it going to last?
“You look at your career and think, ‘is this me going into early retirement, is it time to hang up the boots?’ I think finding that motivation, do I continue to go on, has probably been the hardest part of this time.”
If you’ve followed Scott’s soccer career, you know she proudly represents her hometown of Winnipeg wherever she goes, whether it’s professional stops in England or the United States or travelling the globe with Team Canada.
Scott, Burnett help feed communities
That’s taken on extra meaning with her recent involvement with Mondelez International, the parent company of snack brands Ritz, Oreo and Cadbury. The company partnered with Scott and three-time Olympic trampolinist Jason Burnett, to make $40,000 donations to both the Winnipeg Harvest food bank and Daily Bread food bank in Etobicoke, Ont.
The Feed Hope in Canada campaign also donated $75,000 to the Canadian Olympic Foundation.
Scott said it hits home hard when you see that more than 70,000 Manitobans rely on food banks each month.
“Food is such a basic necessity. You realize there are people out there who are struggling to just get their basic needs on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “Being able to be a part of this connection with Winnipeg Harvest is so important, especially now during Covid where things may be magnetized as well.”
Burnett’s involvement with Daily Bread dates back to 2012 after the London Olympics. He volunteered every Friday for a year and a half in the hamper room, organizing different sections of food (fruits and vegetables, canned goods, bread, etc.) for the clients.
But to do something on a larger scale is meaningful.
“The communities where I grew up, including Etobicoke, helped raise me,” he said. “There’s been a lot of support through the years. Without it, an athlete like myself just doesn’t develop the confidence to perform on an international stage or doesn’t necessarily have the resources to even get to the international stage.
“I’m really thankful, which is why I feel it’s so important to support them in these challenging times.”
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Burnett, who captured a silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is in what he calls a transition phase in his career.
Olympic qualification for Tokyo was put on hold because of the pandemic, and at age 33 and three Olympic Games already under his belt, it’s a big question mark whether he’ll go for one more. But for now, he’s relishing his role as a mentor for the next generation of Canadian trampolinists.
“It’s important that they learn from the experiences that Rosie [MacLennan] and myself have had in the past, so when it’s their turn to shine and get up onto that international stage, they can be better prepared for the pressure that’s coming to them,” Burnett said.
Scott had been looking forward to the Challenge Cup, saying that while she had mixed emotions about the return to sport amid COVID-19, she felt safe in the Utah bubble where her Royals and the seven other NWSL teams are conducting the World-Cup style tournament.
“There’s so much going on in the world, it’s nice to be able to kick a soccer ball and play with my friends again. To have that social interaction, I’m very happy and fortunate to be able to do it,” Scott said before Monday’s announcement.
And though she’s not on the pitch for the time being, Scott is still cheering from afar, especially for her fellow Canadian teammate Diana Matheson, who scored in the Royals opener versus the Houston Dash.
“First game back in a year and a half for the Royals and she starts with a GOAL. Proud teammie.”