Canadian women’s national team head coach Bev Priestman confirmed it on Wednesday, but it was already a near certainty for the Paris 2024 Olympics. 

Despite immense public pressure and an athlete-led push for understanding, the rosters for the upcoming Olympic Games will stay at a mere 18 players, down from the COVID-expanded 22-player roster for Tokyo 2020, where Canada won gold. 

While the expanded rosters at the last Olympics proved critical for Canada, golden penalty kick scorer Julia Grosso being among the extended roster, the tool was never intended for extended use on the Olympic stage. 

Now, as the world approaches the first Olympics without a global pandemic for the first time since the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games, many of the regulations are back in focus — including a tight cap on the athlete quota for the Games. 

At a 2018 IOC meeting, the international organization concluded that the Olympic Games be limited to 10,500 athletes, putting a cap on the number for each sport in an effort to reach that eventual maxed-out total. 

Courtesy: Canada Soccer

While COVID-19 allowed some flexibility, while also still permitting the temporary inclusion or reintroduction of baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing, it wasn’t a permanent tool. 

Nearly 11,500 athletes competed at Tokyo 2020 in 2021, as the IOC expanded quotas due to impacted qualification process, extended events, and the need for potential alternates if COVID had a heavy impact. 

At Paris 2024, 32 athletes, 16 men and 16 women, will compete in a breakdancing competition for the first time, with those athletes all fitting within the Olympic Charter quota of 10,500. With that addition, and even with the subtraction of baseball and softball, it doesn’t leave wiggle room for soccer to add an additional four players per team, which would be 48 more women’s players. 

When breakdancing — officially known as ‘breaking’ — was introduced as a potential sport for the Paris programme, that’s when women’s soccer would have had to push for more roster spots. Yet, that IOC Executive Board meeting came in Milan in 2019, well before the impetus of match congestion and heavy injury rate started to rear its truly ugly head in the women’s game. 

At the first modern Olympics in 1896, nine sports were featured, which included 43 different events contested by 241 all-male athletes. Meanwhile, Paris 2024 will feature 32 sports with 329 events and an athletes quota capped at a total of 10,500 athletes competing. 

Women’s soccer, despite being a showcase event of the Games, alongside swimming and athletics, hasn’t been given wiggle room in the quota, but is far from the only sport being impacted by the Olympic Charter. While breaking debuts in Paris, it is off the Olympic docket for Los Angeles 2028, as the American-hosted Games have emphasized adding American football, baseball/softball, lacrosse, squash and cricket to the Games programme, drawing away from the athlete quota. 

Courtesy: Canada Soccer

That said, LA 2028 reached a tentative deal with the IOC to extend the quota, as decided at the December 2023 IOC EB meeting in Mumbai, India — where women’s soccer did not apply for a greater athlete count. However, there is an understanding that the LA 2028 Games will feature over the previously hard cap of 10,500. 

The limited roster spots and rigid rulings of the Olympic quota are no easy task to navigate and leave women’s soccer players in particular in a difficult position heading into the Games, with many set to be in the midst of busy summer schedules or heading into European preseasons. 

However, with the CONCACAF W Gold Cup and other friendly opportunities coming in the leadup, Priestman will have the opportunity to select the best 18 for the Canadian team, even if it comes with challenging decisions and an emphasis on versatility, which could harm the eventual finished product. 

The Olympics aren’t an easy tournament, and with soccer being just one of dozens of sports, the emphasis isn’t placed on making it the best tournament possible. Still, Canada enters Paris 2024 as reigning Olympic champions and will look to defend their title, even with just 18 players.