For Diana Matheson, the 2012 Olympic bronze will be forever etched in memory

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Sports executive Diana Matheson won back-to-back Olympic bronze medals and is the chief executive officer for Canada’s first women’s professional soccer league.Photo illustration of The Globe and Mail. Source photo: Tijana Martin/The Globe and Mail/The Globe and Mail

Four years ago, after being ruled out of the 2019 Women’s World Cup with a foot injury, Diana Matheson embraced a new challenge, making her first forays into broadcasting as an analyst for TSN’s coverage of the tournament.

This time around, having retired as a player two years ago, she’s tackling an ever bigger obstacle, working feverishly in preparation for Canada’s first women’s professional soccer league, Project 8, which is set to launch in 2025. Matheson, who won back-to-back Olympic bronze medals as a midfielder at the 2012 and 2016 Games, is the chief executive officer for the new venture, which has now secured owners for three of its proposed eight franchises.

But even though she’s not actively involved in this year’s Women’s World Cup, she recognizes the opportunity that the quadrennial soccer jamboree presents to a fledgling competition such as her own.

“The World Cup is really the marker,” she says. “I think the Olympics is a little bit of a different beast. It depends on how countries do and the response within the countries, but I think it’s fairly consistent over the last 20 years.

“Every time there’s a Women’s World Cup, you can see that the viewership is growing. You can see that the broadcast dollars are growing, you can see that the prize money is growing.”

What is your current state of mind?

A mix of determined and learner’s mindset, I think. I’m in a new role with this new endeavor in building the league. I’m a new CEO, and I’ve tried very hard to surround myself with people smarter and more experienced than I. So it’s been a pretty interesting new challenge coming out of being an athlete and I was essentially a full-time student for two years and now back in the work force.

You talk of learner’s mindset. How hard has it been to learn the business side of your sport?

It’s been interesting. I was quite involved in our women’s national team players’ association and helped build that up over the decade before I retired, so I’d already had a number of dealings with Canada Soccer and was pretty familiar with the behind-the-scenes workings. Honestly, I mean, the executive MBA program I picked and a UEFA master’s program I took were intended to kind of fast-track that education that I hadn’t got yet so both those programs were incredible and I’m very grateful that the timing worked out.

When and where were you happiest?

One of my happy places was, of course, on the field. I’ve got a pretty vivid memory of being surreally happy and joyful and relieved in 2012 after that France game [winning bronze after Matheson scored the only goal of the game] and then getting to stand on the podium with my teammates, that is forever etched in my memory. I love to play the game and I have many memories of training being over and it being midday in summer somewhere and just hanging out on a beautiful pitch with some teammates. So those are some memories and other than that with my family and friends, traveling a lot at the moment but when we actually have time to stay home and be at home with my fiancée [former Olympic speed-skater] Anastasia Bucsis, those are pretty great times as well.

Which talent would you most like to have in the world?

Control time, how about that one? Create more time for everything and the things you want to do.

What is your most treasured possession?

That bronze medal in 2012 is pretty special. We have a new kitten, Catty, so she’s pretty prized as well.

Who are your favorite writers?

At the moment I’m reading some fiction and learning about that business space again. Outside of that, checking out at night, it’s all sci-fi. No specific author. I just read The Three-Body Problem and quite enjoyed that one.

Which historical figures do you most identify with?

Probably women in history. As we all get older we obviously learn about more historical figures we didn’t learn about when we were kids. It’s always fun to hear about women making history that perhaps weren’t in those textbooks and you find out later. It was only last year I found out about the Matchless Six, who were the first Canadian women Olympians that competed in 1928 in the Olympics in Amsterdam, and they won a bunch of medals and they came home and were greeted by thousands in front of Union Station.

What’s your greatest regret?

I am not sure I have one. You can’t live with big regrets, can you?

Where in the world would you most like to live?

I’m pretty happy in Toronto with family and friends, but Costa Rica would not be a bad place to live. My partner has a friend and their family has a house down there. So she’s been going down for years and years and years. So I just started joining them the last couple of years and it’s a fantastic place. Great food, great people. I love the ocean, so it’s got everything.

Who are your heroes in real life?

I have heroes in sport. Charmaine Hooper and an older generation of women’s soccer players in Canada. I think now I have a lot of women I look up to in business and in sport in Canada. Some I’m lucky to know and are mentors. I think with the pro league, it’s not hard to get people excited about it. And it’s not hard to get women and women in business excited about it. I’m lucky to have a circle of very smart, experienced women around me and they know lots of people and if someone says a name we should talk to, I give them a call. Generally they talk to us, so most people we’re able to get to and talk to and that’s been so many incredible women and men.

What do you value most in your friends?

Shared humor, I think, honest conversations and you enjoy doing things together and some similar things, whether that’s a boozy brunch or a hike or whatever it is.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I’ll spend money on a nice new MacBook Air and that’s probably my greatest extravagance.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?

Anastasia Bucsis and soccer.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Honestly, I racked up a few injuries during the later part of my career and the left side of my body, specifically my foot and my knee on the left side were a bit out of commission. So I’d just switch those out maybe for some new parts.

On what occasion do you lie?

I think I am a pretty straightforward person, especially when it comes to big important issues – white lies, of course, are another thing. I’m perhaps a little bit more willing to lie if I know the person I’m speaking to is lying to me.

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