Star sprinter Andre De Grasse has bought into AFC Toronto City, the local entry in the proposed Canadian women’s professional soccer league.
The eight-team league, the brainchild of former Canadian international Diana Matheson, is scheduled to launch in 2025.
“I was more thinking about it from a grassroots community side,” De Grasse, who played youth soccer with the Scarborough Azzurri-Blues, said in a phone interview. “Just trying to be a part of something that’s pretty cool.
“Bringing a women’s soccer league and having a franchise in Toronto is a pretty cool thing to have and I just hope that I can play a big part in it. Hopefully it can blow up into something big and go somewhere because obviously I’m a big fan of women’s soccer.”
The wheels had been in motion between De Grasse’s representation and Matheson for an investment since the league was launched in December 2022, waiting for management for a Toronto team to come together. AFC Toronto City was announced in April 2023.
The Markham, Ont., native was hosted by investors and the league, Project 8, at Canada’s women’s Sept. 26 Olympic qualifier game against Jamaica where they asked of his interest in being “on board.”
A spokesman for De Grasse declined to detail the amount of his investment.
The franchise fee for the new league is $1 million with a need for an estimated $8 million to $10 million in total invested capital over the first five seasons in addition to necessary spending on infrastructure. Owners are buying a piece of the league as well as their own franchise.
WATCH | Matheson discusses Toronto franchise with CBC Sports:
The AFC Toronto City ownership is an entrepreneurial group with roots in the North Toronto Soccer Club although that organization is not affiliated to the new team. It is led by CEO Helena Ruken, COO Brenda Ha and chief marketing officer Jill Burgin.
The other three co-owners are Mike Ruthard, Billy Wilson and Shamez Mangalji, who also have ties to North Toronto Soccer Club. Ruthard and Mangalji have experience in the financial sector while Wilson is North Toronto’s executive and technical director.
Ruthard will be Toronto City’s chief financial officer while Mangalji looks after sales and fundraising and Wilson serves as a technical adviser.
Project 8, founded by Matheson and Thomas Gilbert, already has official league recognition from Canada Soccer.
“We are thrilled to hear that Andre will be investing in Toronto’s women’s professional team,” Matheson said. “Andre is joining an investment group in Toronto that, like he does, understands the incredible impact that sport has on individuals and communities, as well as the significant growth potential of women’s professional sport in Canada.”
Matheson’s stoppage-time goal earned Canada a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics. She won 206 caps for Canada (including 193 starts) from 2003 to 2020.
Other teams already confirmed for the women’s league are the Vancouver Whitecaps and Calgary foothills.
The 29-year-old De Grasse, a six-time Olympic medallist, is no stranger to backing startup ventures through his recently formed ADG Ignite Ventures.
WATCH | De Grasse joins CBC Sports’ Athletics North:
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