To cap off an amazing Fourth of July holiday weekend, the United States’ Women’s Soccer team handily defeated Japan in a 5-2 rout to claim the 2015 Women’s World Cup trophy for the third time. It was by all accounts a dominating performance from our dedicated athletes, including a historic hat-trick from midfielder Carli Lloyd. With luck, the victory will also help make progress in rectifying the gender inequality and discrimination that plagues women’s soccer.
Progressive media outlets took aim at FIFA, the soccer world’s scandal-wracked governing body, for the gross disparity in pay that female athletes receive as opposed to the sums paid to male athletes. The US Women’s team received $2 million in prize money for winning the championship- but male squads receive $1.5 million just for participating. Male teams earn $8 million for losing in the first round- and the winning squad takes home a jaw-dropping $35 million. While the difference in popularity between the two leagues undoubtedly plays a role in this, FIFA’s attitude towards other issues of discrimination would indicate that this perhaps is not entirely an economic difference.
Earlier this year, women’s teams filed a lawsuit against FIFA for requiring them to play on artificial turf, while men’s teams play on real grass. No explanation was given, and the women’s teams are up in arms over the false ground, which is known to be significantly less safe, causing more injuries and laceration to players. In addition, artificial turf retains heat at a much higher rate than real grass- turf temperatures at this World Cup reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit, putting undue stress and rapid fatigue on player’s bodies. Matt Bensler of the US Men’s National team remarked that “Anybody that’s watched a lot of soccer, you can very easily tell the difference between a game played on grass and a game played on turf. If you’re talking about the actual quality of soccer, it will have a negative impact.”
FIFA is a multi-billion dollar industry that could easily afford to lay grass and sod on their fields, and their refusal to even acknowledge the complaints of the women’s teams are indicative of gender discrimination. As FIFA deals with the vast corruption scandal that has led to the indictments of many top officials, it’s clear that a change in leadership and culture is drastically needed. It’s far past time for women’s sports teams to be treated with the same respect and dignity that men’s teams do.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.