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Christine Sinclair has earned the peace of her decision to exit international soccer on her own terms

The real lure of sports is their perpetual mystery. Every game, every season, every athletic career is a wonder.

Then, always, there comes an end. A whistle is blown, a trophy is engraved, a tearful announcement is made, and for an instant, at least, every question is answered. We bask in that understanding until the calendar turns, and new questions are asked, again and again.

In 2000, when Christine Sinclair was 16 years old — a shy, quiet teenager making her first precocious appearances for the national team at the Algarve Cup in sunny Portugal — nobody could have foretold how the rest of her story might unfold.

Today, on Wednesday afternoon, in the thin light of a grey day in Vancouver, we can make a perfectly complete account of her international soccer career.

She played until she was a shy, quiet 40-year-old, earning a remarkable 331 caps for Canada. Her last came on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in a 1-0 win over Australia in a stadium renamed Christine Sinclair Place for the occasion.

WATCH | Sinclair plays part on Canada’s winning goal:

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Christine Sinclair on pitch for Canada’s match-winning goal against Australia

Quinn lifts Canada to a 1-0 victory over Australia in Christine Sinclair’s final international match of her career.

She was cheered on by 48,112 supporters, the most for a women’s soccer friendly in Canadian history.

She didn’t add to her record tally of 190 international goals, but she did get a vital touch before her team put one in, and it proved the winner.

After the game, she gave her last post-game interview to TSN — “It’s perfect,” she said — and then semi-staggered to the middle of the field, the turf turning cooler by the minute. She was met by a circle of former and current teammates — now, all former teammates — and they put their arms around each other’s shoulders.

Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love” was played over the stadium loudspeakers, and they sang it together at the top of their lungs.

Then she walked away.

Not many athletes get to dictate their own endings. Most are told by their bodies or their coaches or their disgruntled former fans that it’s time. Only the greatest face anything like a choice.

Sinclair could have retired after winning Olympic gold in 2021. Instead, she wanted to play in her sixth Women’s World Cup, last summer in Australia and New Zealand. That tournament was a disaster for her and her team. 

WATCH | Sinclair acknowledged by crowd as she subs off for final time:

Christine Sinclair exits final international match of career to standing ovation

Canadian soccer icon Christine Sinclair is substituted out of the match for the last time of her international career. Sophie Schmidt, who’s also playing her final match for Canada, replaces Sinclair on the pitch.

At the height of her powers in 2012, she scored 23 goals in 22 games, including her incredible hat trick against the Americans at the London Olympics. Canada lost despite the best efforts of her career, but Sinclair’s performance is still the heart of a lodestar game for women’s soccer.

She scored only twice in 2022 and didn’t score in any of her 12 appearances in 2023. Her last goal came more than a year ago, in July 2022, during a romp over Trinidad and Tobago. Without her Canadian farewell tour — Canada Soccer has bumbled a lot lately; this, they got right — her post-Olympics coda might have read as regrettable, or at best melancholic.

But it’s a little too easy to forget that sport’s outcomes are uncertain even for the people who play them. We talk about wanting to see our heroes “go out on top” without thinking about the doubt that might then fill the space once occupied by their dreams.

WATCH | Sinclair reflects on record-breaking career:

Christine Sinclair reacts to retirement message from Ryan Reynolds

Wrexham AFC co-owner and Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds sends heartwarming message to Christine Sinclair upon retirement from Canadian women’s national team.

We get a satisfying resolution and find our new favourite player. They get a lifetime of “what ifs?” and never play the game they love again.

When you’ve scored more international goals than anyone who’s ever played, maybe you should be afforded a little grace. Maybe you’re due the relief of certainty.

“I’m okay with the decision I’m making and that I’ve made,” Sinclair told the CBC before her final appearance in Canadian red. “I’m good.”

That peace is a gift, and it’s the least she deserves.

There will soon be more questions, of course. Such is the nature of the game.

WATCH | Sinclair reacts to retirement message from Ryan Reynolds:

Christine Sinclair honoured in ceremony before playing final match for Canada

A special presentation for longtime captain Christine Sinclair who’s playing her final game for the Canadian women’s national soccer team.

Sinclair will play one more season with the Portland Thorns. Her professional career will have its own discreet and definitive end, for now unwritten.

Her post-retirement life also remains a mystery. Maybe she will coach. Maybe she will work behind the scenes in the women’s game. Maybe she will disappear into her famously private private life, and we won’t see or hear much of Christine Sinclair again.

But for now, that wondering can wait. She, and we, can enjoy a December of doubtlessness, certain in the sum of what she gave us. 

The answer is everything.

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