The United States’ women’s soccer team defeated Japan this weekend in an impressive and fast-paced game, bringing home the championship trophy for the first time in 16 years. But despite national and international celebration, disparities in coverage, respect, and pay still linger between women’s and men’s soccer teams.
The FIFA World Cup tournament was hosted in Canada, and included some of the best athletes in the world competing in a fast-paced, month-long competition. The US women’s team in particular was a favorite from the beginning; with a world-class lineup that includes international goal-scoring record holder Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone, Alex Morgan, and goal keeper Hope Solo, this match has many reminiscing about the US team who last brought home the World Cup trophy in 1999.
For the final match, over 53,000 people completely filled the Canadian stadium to watch the US bring win against Japan. The US won 5-2, with a hat trick (3 goals in one game) by Carli Lloyd in the first twenty minutes of the game. This is the first time such a hat trick has ever been scored in men’s and women’s World Cup history.
Even so, feminists have been noting the differences between coverage of last year’s men’s World Cup in Brazil and this year’s tournament in Canada. The months of in-depth coverage leading up to the men’s World Cup last year dramatically overshadows the limited coverage of the women’s cup, which mostly focused on the last two weeks of the tournament.
As Maggie Mertens wrote for the Atlantic, “The gender inequities in sports are just as vast as those faced by women in corporate offices and on movie sets, but for some reason they fail to incite the same level of outrage.” There is a massive pay gap between male and female professional athletes. In this tournament alone the US world champions of the women’s World Cup will earn collectively $15 million- a stark difference from the $576 million earned collectively by the US men’s team, who lost in the first round of the tournament last year.
The fight for equality in sports is not a new one. With the historic passing of Title IX of the Education Amendments in 1972, sex discrimination in federally funded education programs was prohibited, opening the doors for women in sports and higher education. In 1972, women were only 15.6 percent of collegiate athletes, but by 2007 women made up as much as 41.7 percent, and that statistic has been climbing.
“When we started the fight for women’s athletic equality in the 70s, we were told repeatedly that no one would want to watch women and girls’ sports,” Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, remembers. “We knew that was simply untrue—and the women of the United States soccer team proved that last night. The 2015 FIFA World Cup stadium was filled to capacity to watch these women play.”
Indeed, Fox Sports- the primary United States carrier of the FIFA World Cup- had to expand its coverage of the tournament with 30 additional hours of programming, including expanded pre- and post-game coverage, due to unprecedented demand for coverage of this championship match. The increase in programming is promising, although we are far from parity; a new report by researchers from USC and Purdue University found that ESPN’s coverage of sports news through program SportsCenter only gave 2% airtime to women in 2014.
A group of more than 40 leading women’s soccer players have recently filed a lawsuit against FIFA for gender-based discrimination, specifically citing FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) decisions to have the women’s tournament played on artificial turf as opposed to a grass field. Those filing the lawsuit call artificial turf an “inferior surface,” and cite the increased risk of injury and significant temperature difference on the field that artificial turf creates. In this World Cup, the artificial turf brought temperatures on the field to up to 120 degrees. Every men’s World Cup since 1930 has been played on natural grass, while most women’s World Cup matches, as well as the next six scheduled, are slated to be played on artificial turf.
Media Resources: Quartz 6/30/15; the Atlantic 6/5/15; BBC 12/20/14; Think Progress 7/6/15; 6/8/15; Feminist Campus Blog 6/25/12; Fox Sports 7/2/15; UNC News 6/5/15; NBC Sports