May 29, 2024

Bella Forbes, Liya Equbagzi thriving in Women in Football program

Entering its third year of existence, the CFL’s Women in Football Program presented by KPMG LLC is already making a difference.

Take Liya Equbagzi and Bella Forbes as perfect examples with Toronto and Hamilton, respectively. Both are thriving in football operations roles as 2024 participants. And neither would be in positions to do so had they not discovered the program, which was launched for the 2022 season.

“I was always around sports and a part of sports growing up and was the sports coordinator for our sports business club at Carleton University,” Equbagzi told “Then our football team started a women’s apprenticeship coaching program, and I didn’t really have any coaching experience but was like: why not?

“I applied there and ended up getting a position as an operations assistant and a defensive assistant. From there the head coach sent me the application for the Women in Football program.”

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Carleton student Liya Equbagzi is working in Football Operations with the Toronto Argonauts (

Equbagzi’s story is similar to that of Forbes about 65 kilometres down the highway. If it weren’t for the program, a job in football was likely not on Forbes’s radar.

“I’ve actually worked at Tim Hortons Field for about three years now as a stadium technician, so I was familiar with the team and the environment and stuff,” said Forbes. “I grew up in Hamilton so born and raised we all love the Ticats here and I just kind of happened upon it on the CFL page one day.

“There was a posting for a Women in Football internship so I figured this would be a great opportunity to get myself on the other side of things. It kind of just went from there.”

And almost immediately Forbes and Equbagzi went to work in a pair of CFL front offices.

“We’re kind of all over the place, so much more than I thought going in,” admitted Forbes. “You kind of hear football operations and it’s such a broad term that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

“We’re in charge of postgame food for any of our games or practices. We supply the food and water for the players where they live or during practice. We’re in charge of transportation, so we’d schedule flights and drivers from the airport to get players to and from camp. We’ve been setting up housing options for all our players who will be staying on the team. And just kind of everything behind the scenes that you don’t really realize goes into it. It’s been one hectic experience and a big learning curve, but it’s been so much fun.”

Bella Forbes is part of the Ticats Football Operations staff at training camp (

Equbagzi’s experience has been a similar whirlwind and, owing to her coaching apprenticeship at Carleton, has included some added responsibilities, too.

“Day-to-day I attend every practice,” Equbagzi revealed. “I mainly shadow the defensive line. I’ve been able to help demonstrate some drills in practice, and I go to meetings with them as well. I go to the defensive meetings and the D-line position meetings.

“On the operations side, it’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. Making sure players and coaches are doing okay. When I first got here, I was responsible for housing and making sure guys were landing okay and in their rooms and stuff like that. I’ve been working on reimbursements. Now we’re getting ready for preseason games, so helping with travel and booking rooms.”

Equbagzi and Forbes represent the East Division’s two football operations participants in 2024. In Montreal, Émilie Pfeiffer-Badoux has joined the Alouettes for training camp in a coaching capacity after serving as a special teams assistant with the Concordia Stingers the last two seasons.

And Kristine Walker is busy with the Ottawa REDBLACKS working in strength and conditioning, which makes nothing but sense. Walker obtained her PhD in Sports Performance Neuroscience at Western University and has been in strength and conditioning and coaching with the Mustangs for the last 11 years.

Since its inception, numerous Women in Football participants have moved forward with full-time positions in the CFL. Perhaps most notable is Nadia Doucoure, who now serves on Ottawa’s coaching staff after going through the program in 2022 while with Carleton University.

And that connection isn’t lost on current Carleton student Equbagzi.

“I’ve actually gotten to meet (Nadia) a couple times down at Carleton and pick her brain,” she said. “Just to see everything she’s doing and to see everyone she’s inspiring. That just motivates you to keep going and hopefully little girls or anybody sees you down the road and hopefully you can be that inspiration for them. She’s been great.”

The stories of Equbagzi and Forbes help underline the importance of creating more diverse and equitable workspaces across the league. It’s something the CFL is committed to now and in the future, which means next year’s intake is on track for another step forward.

“It’s an invaluable experience, I think,” admitted Forbes. “There’s not a chance I would have ever pictured myself having this opportunity without the program running, just because sports is so close knit.

“It’s sort of all about who you know…and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get this experience or meet the people I’ve met or do the things I’ve done without this program running. I’m extremely grateful for that.”

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