Gender Equality Strides Since The Last Women’s World Cup
A gender discrimination lawsuit brought forth by Abby Wambach and a team of international soccer stars against FIFA and the
Canadian Soccer Association made the world take note of the gross gender inequality occurring within the professional world of sports. The suit’s main point centered around women being made to play the 2015 World Cup on artificial grass as opposed to real grass. With the World Cup now under a year away we ask how much –if at all- the gap between women’s and men’s games have been bridged.
Norway & NZL Win Equal Pay
In October of last year, Norway’s FA announced that its female national team would be the first in the world to receive the same pay as the men’s. A few months ago and New Zealand’s FA followed suit offering its women’s team equal pay, prize money, rights for image use, and travel budget.
Before the collective bargaining agreement, female Norwegian players earned less than half of their male counterparts. While not as glass-shattering as Norway’s or New Zealand’s agreements, the USWNT reached an improved collective bargaining agreement in 2017 that saw base wages increase by 30%, a bonus compensation increase, enhanced travel benefits, per diem equal to that of the US men’s team, and financial support for pregnant players or those that adopt. Despite these advances the women’s team did not withdraw a federal complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that charged the USSF with wage discrimination.
Liga MX Femenil
Mexico’s first professional women’s soccer league had its inaugural season in 2017. The second season of Liga MX Femenil saw two new teams added to the league which now totals 18. The newly formed league is a palpable sign that Mexico is ready to invest in female professional sports. The most attended match was a Leon-Chivas game that brought in 25,000 spectators. The league looks promising despite some interesting quirks such as only being able to field Mexican-born players younger than 24 (with the exception of four players older than 24 per side). This controversial rule means that midfielder Veronica Pérez -who has been capped 89 times for her national team- cannot play in her country’s domestic league.
Grass Is Back
Artificial grass is the bane of all soccer players. When Megan Rapinoe was asked how she feels about the surface she quipped, “It’s basically playing on padded concrete.” Due to vociferous cries from those in the dissenting party, it’s just about safe to say that artificial grass will never again be used at another women’s World Cup. Perhaps the switch back to grass was inevitable, but there’s nothing like a lawsuit and celebrity pressure from the likes of Tom Hanks and Kobe Bryant to put an end to the turf war.
NWSL Rallies On
Before the National Women’s Soccer League there was the WUSA and the WPS, both now defunct. Learning from its predecessors, in 2016 the NWSL became the first professional women’s soccer league to tally a fourth year. Now the league is six years strong and continuing to make adjustments. At the start of the 2018 season the league raised its salary cap from 315k to 350k. The minimum ($15,750) and maximum salaries ($44,000) were also raised. While the salary increases may have been marginal, players can be most excited about the doing away with the amateur player rule that allowed clubs to not pay amateur players that filled in for national teams players while they were on international duty. The new rule means that interim players must sign contracts equal to that of the league’s minimum wage.
International Soccer Tournaments
The highly competitive SheBelieves Cup was launched in 2016 and features a 4-team group stage only format. Games average an attendance of 12,437 per match and bring together the best women’s teams in the world. The tournament is now considered one of the most prestigious international women’s tournaments in the world. In addition to the SheBelieves Cup, the world stage may be graced by yet another top-notch tournament. FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino -who ran under a platform of investing in the women’s game- recently broached the idea of a 16-team competition that would become the de-facto second most venerable women’s tournament behind the World Cup.
However, with election year around the corner, Infantino could just be using the proposal as a way to ease his passage into a second term as FIFA’s president.
Despite only being able to describe some of the recent advances as minor, it’s important to note that many a woman’s sport has failed or remained stagnant in the past. The march forward may be incremental but it’s at least moving in the direction towards equality.