Late last month in Nike’s midtown New York City office, executives from their global design department for soccer mingled and spoke with enthusiasm as the sportswear brand unveiled to the media their World Cup kits for a dozen teams.
Missing from the event was Canadian representation.
Despite Nike being the kit supplier for Canada as they prepare to play in their first World Cup since 1986 with a young, marketable squad led by a globally-recognized star in Alphonso Davies, Canada could well be the lone team not getting new kits for the World Cup. Information regarding Tunisia kits was difficult to find, but all 30 other teams will wear kits designed for the event.
Canada’s current, template-based kits debuted in a June 2021 World Cup qualifying match against Aruba. The Athletic first revealed that Canada would not get a new World Cup kit back in March. Nearly all of Nike’s other World Cup kits will all feature bespoke designs instead of templates.
Canada not getting new World Cup kits doesn’t sit well with some national team players.
“I’m not a fan of it, to be honest,” Canadian defender Sam Adekugbe said. “I just feel like every team should get a new kit for the World Cup because it’s a symbolic event. I don’t hate it, but I would have liked to have gotten a new kit, just because it’s something to cherish.”
In an interview that touched on a variety of topics, Canada Soccer general secretary Earl Cochrane said “As I understand it, the requirement to make those types of changes is a multi-year process.
In a statement, Nike acknowledged Canada’s kit will remain the same: “Canada Soccer is on a different kit development cycle.“
One possible reason for Canada not getting new World Cup kits is the rapid ascent of the Canadian men’s team.
When Canada Soccer and Nike signed a partnership in December 2018, the men’s national team was ranked 78th in the world by FIFA, just two spots above tiny Curacao and eighth among all CONCACAF nations. Even with the positivity in statements from then Canada Soccer president Steven Reed (“This watershed moment for Canada Soccer is further proof that Canada is a leading soccer nation”), it would be fair to characterize the likelihood of Canada qualifying for the 2022 World Cup , and therefore needing a new kit, as low.
It’s believed that the process of Nike designing and creating a new kit can take approximately 18 months. For a kit to have been released with the other Nike World Cup kits this month, that process would have had to begin in approximately March 2021.
At that point, Canada was just about to begin a remarkable, year-long process in the first round of CONCACAF qualification against minnows like the Cayman Islands. Again, the odds of Canada reaching the World Cup at that point were, at best, long.
“I think that just shows that no one really believed in us,” said Adekugbe. “I don’t think Canada believed. But the only person who really believed was (Canada coach John Herdman), and the group that was around.”
The team’s rise through qualification became such a feel-good story throughout the international soccer world because it was so improbable, and caught many prognosticators off-guard. And it seems Nike falls into that group.
“Our (Canada women’s national team), for example, are a global Nike brand,” said Cochrane. “The discussion around what they’re going to be wearing in 2023 and 2024 happens three years in advance. I don’t know why those conversations didn’t happen, or if they were even asked. I just know that when we qualified, the ability to turn around a specific jersey hadn’t been contemplated at that time.”
The Canada women’s 2019 World Cup home kit was revealed in March of that year, ahead of the June tournament. It was the first kit Nike designed for Canada after they became the official supplier, taking over from Umbro.
While the current women’s team jersey features a bespoke design with an all-over maple leaf pattern, Canada’s men’s team will go to the World Cup with red, white and possibly black jerseys from Nike’s Strike II template line.
A Canada Soccer spokesperson confirmed Canada will have new shorts in Qatar, “available to the Men’s National Team for the first time.”
Nike has previously drawn the ire of some kit fans because of their reliance on templates, particularly at the 2016 Euros, during which many teams wore a variety of a similar-looking jersey.
In February 2020, Heidi Burgett, Nike’s Senior Director of Global Communications, tweeted that Nike would be “ditching the templates” in their soccer jerseys.
We’re ditching the templates. For the 2020 kits, Nike designers had 65 chassis options available to them across varying necklines, sleeves, cuffs, badge placement, etc. From hand-drawn prints to custom fonts, each team’s look will be its own.
— Heidi Burgett (@heidiburgett) February 5, 2020
Asked if he feels that Canada not getting a World Cup kit is a missed opportunity, Cochrane said, “Yes. But I just know that there’s a time constraint, right? It’s a long process, as opposed to just saying, ‘We’re going to make a decision today that Canada is going to work and we’re going to turn that around in two or three months.’ That’s a conversation that happens in 2018 or 2019, not 2021.”
Cochrane’s response is fair and valid. The process of creating not just a new World Cup kit, but the multitudes of training gear and warm-ups that come along with the kits, is a multi-layered and lengthy one. Market research needs to be conducted, and the back-and-forth between federations and suppliers to agree on a design can also be lengthy.
But the lack of a new World Cup kit makes it worth questioning who the partnership between Nike and Canada Soccer benefits.
Despite Canadian Soccer Business being formed in March 2018 to represent “commercial assets and inventory for marquee soccer properties in Canada,” including “representation for all corporate partnerships,” the deal with Nike was announced as one between Canada Soccer and the sportswear brand.
The Voyageurs, the longtime Canada national team supporters group, said in a statement that there has been plenty of “disappointment” in their group about Canada not getting new World Cup kits.
“Some within the group have said, ‘It’s no big deal,’ while others opined that looking at some of the other countries’ kits, it might have worked out better that we stuck with what we have,” the group said. “Additionally, there continues to be disappointment that availability of kits of (both the men’s and women’s teams) has been so poor, especially considering the surge of popularity over the previous 18 months.”
Adekugbe said that he was content with the template kits Canada has now, particularly Canada’s third kit, the black Strike II.
Canada’s black kit was worn in some of their most iconic wins through World Cup qualifying, including a dramatic 2-1 win over Mexico in frigid Edmonton to send them to the top of the qualifying standings, and a determined 2-0 win over the United States in January that made Canada look like a sure thing to qualify for the World Cup.
“That black kit speaks volumes,” said Adekugbe. “It kind of has a sense of the dirty work behind it, where we’ve come from.”
A Canada Soccer spokesperson said Canada “will have three kit colors available to them when they step onto the field in Qatar, making Canada unique among the 32 team tournament.”
However, a release from Nike highlighting their new line of World Cup kits only showcased Canada’s red and white kits.
For months during Canada’s initial climb through 2019, and then through their World Cup qualification run, as the team achieved a level of popularity in Canada that they arguably never had before, it was difficult to purchase Canada jerseys at popular online soccer retailers, as well as in brick-and-mortar shops in Canada. This was also true of women’s team jerseys after an Olympic gold medal win in 2021.
CanadaSoccerStore.com, a Fanatics website, was created during World Cup qualifying.
That site could see a surge in traffic come November, particularly if Canada continues to play their exciting, pacey brand of soccer that they did through qualifying. But it still feels likely that fans will continue to be disappointed.
Phil Delves, a UK-based kit expert and commentator said that, from a marketing perspective, Canada not getting a World Cup kit is “significant.”
“The kits worn at the World Cup are the ones people remember the most,” he said. “When Canada arrives at the World Cup, a lot of people who are just watching them for the first time are going to say, ‘That’s a really boring kit.’ At a very simple level, there would have been an opportunity for Canada to put themselves on the map.”
Delves pointed to the wild popularity Nigeria enjoyed with their bespoke Nike kits at the 2018 World Cup, which became collectable items because of that popularity.
“There’s a whole demographic of people who will choose to support a team based on the kit they wear,” said Delves. “The World Cup is prime time. It’s the opportunity to ship product.”
Delves suggested that Nike may have missed the chance to harken back to Canada’s first and only World Cup appearance in 1986 with a retro-inspired kit. Even though Canada’s World Cup kits in 1986 were made by Adidas, relying on a template, which Nike had previously said they were doing away with, puts the slightest damper on an otherwise positive story that is Canada going to the 2022 World Cup.
“It’s a real shame,” said Delves.