Gender equality has been a big topic recently. Emma Watson brought it to the UN. It’s been brought up during nearly every Presidential debate. It’s even hit the world of sports, particularly soccer (or what the rest of the world calls football). On International Women’s Day, soccer’s international governing body, FIFA held a conference on Women in Leadership that was well-attended and well-received. Most recently, five members of the US Women’s National Team have filed suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of the team demanding equal pay for equal play.
There’s an opportunity here to make what is recognized the world over as the beautiful game even more beautiful. I don’t mean on an aesthetic level based on the looks of female players. Grow up, children. We have an opportunity to be on the right side of history. In 2016, women in the workplace still receive lower pay than their male counterparts. There are also fewer women in leadership roles. Women are 45% of the overall S&P 500 labor force. Yet, women are only 25% of executive and senior-level officials and managers, only 19% of board of director seats and only 4.6% of CEOs. (Source: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2015/08/04/118743/the-womens-leadership-gap/) Sorry to burst your bubble folks, but in 2016 America, the Gender Gap is still a thing.
What does this have to do with soccer? Let’s compare the playing conditions. The FIFA World Cup held in 2014 in Brazil was played entirely on natural grass fields. The FIFA Women’s World cup held in 2015 in Canada was played entirely on artificial turf fields. Natural grass has repeatedly proven to be a superior playing surface. Studies have also shown a potential correlation between artificial turf and the development of cancer later in life. Perhaps more suspicious than that last tidbit was the, “But grass is hard to grow in Canada,” argument used by FIFA and Canadian officials for why artificial turf was being used. No games were scheduled to be played in the arctic areas of the country and I wasn’t aware that Canada’s climate had changed so drastically that it became a freakin’ desert. Quick! Someone call Al Gore! I smell a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth!
When the players and the fans saw through that load of fertilizer, the story changed to, “It’s too expensive to grow grass in Canada.” Every good liar knows that you never change your story. Amateurs! Were we supposed to forget all about the untold sum of money that FIFA had sitting in its pocket after the World Cup in Brazil? Scott’s even offered to lay sod over the turf and send people and products to care for it absolutely free. The beautiful pitch that would’ve undoubtedly resulted would’ve been an advertisement on its own. When presented with the ultimate win-win, FIFA and the Canadian officials said no. So in the end, the Women’s World Cup was played on turf. It was never about grass or money. It was always about equal rights for equal players.
Multiple women’s teams that played in the tournament were from countries where their male counterparts failed to even qualify for the men’s tournament. As it stands, the US Men’s National Team hasn’t won a single World Cup. Our Women’s National Team has won three (1991, 1999, & 2015). In the FIFA World Rankings, the US women sit at #1. Our men sit at #34. Equal play my sweet petootie! The more accurate term is better play.
Not horrified yet? Well just wait until you hear what the USSF pays men for a loss. Male players receive $5,000 per game to lose, which as we just established they do rather often much to the utter consternation of the fans (Come on, guys! You’re better than this!). What do the women get paid? Somewhere in the neighborhood of $1700.00 and that’s only if they win. That’s a disgrace.
How can we put ourselves on the right side of history and right this very obvious and egregious wrong? First and foremost, give women equal pay for their superior play. Yes, I know the slogan is Equal Pay for Equal Play but I’m being real here. And yes, fine folks at the USSF, this can be done. You have the money and the resources. The Women’s World Cup final was the most watched game in the history of any World Cup tournament regardless of the gender of the players in said tournament. Women’s soccer has become wildly popular at every level from youth to NWSL. The USSF is positioned to get in on the ground floor of what promises to be a huge movement and will make money if they make the right moves.
While we’re talking equality, can we PLEASE stop subjecting the fans to every single meaningless Men’s International Friendly and do something to broadcast the women’s games?! I had to watch the majority of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on a tiny laptop screen and I follow most of the NWSL season on the very same tiny screen assuming a live video stream is even available. Most of the time, I have to rely on Twitter. The money the USSF put into NWSL is appreciated, but women are now a majority (50.8%) of the US population, so please GET IT TOGETHER!
In addition to equal pay and equal broadcast time, the next priority should be a concerted effort to include more women in leadership roles in soccer’s governing bodies the world over. There was a lot of conversation on this topic on International Women’s Day. To paraphrase the King, Elvis Pressley I’d like to see a little less conversation and a little more action, please. So, Mr. Gulati, Mr. Infantino, this is the challenge that I am issuing to you: Include more women in the ranks of leadership and lead the rest of the world by your example. Then kick back and watch as the beautiful game becomes even more beautiful.