Beyond The World Cup Fever, Female Soccer Players Are Still Second-class Citizens

Beyond The World Cup Fever, Female Soccer Players Are Still Second-class Citizens
Photo Credit: 2012 SFU Women's Soccer @ CC BY SA 2.0

By Jenny Peng

During a World Cup match between 2011 champions Japan and Netherlands, two police officers with several officials approached a large group of loud, passionate fans and confiscated their drum. Since kick-off, they have been beating the drum loudly while clapping, waving flags and chanting cheers in Japanese.

In taking away the drum, the officials also took away what women’s soccer and professional sports needs most; rowdy and enthusiastic fans to bolster the kind of market appeal that leads to sponsorships and more media coverage. If fans snatch up enough tickets and regularly watch games on television, then maybe most female players in the World Cup won’t have to work full-time jobs in addition to training and playing.

Being one of the top players in the world, U.S. team player Abby Wambach is the world’s second highest paid female soccer player with an annual salary of $190,000. This is slightly more than what the second highest paid male player Lionel Messi, makes in a day. Unfortunately, Wambach is considered one the lucky few who can make a living being professional athletes.

Photo Credit:  Wambach first half @Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Photo Credit: Wambach first half @Flickr CC BY SA 2.0

Is it any wonder girls are growing up without strong athletic role models when the salary range in the top domestic women’s leagues around the world (if there is one) range between $6,000 and $30,000?

As I watch players race up and down the field hammering shots with expertise and endurance, it made me cringe that female soccer players are still being treated as second-class citizens. The tide is slowly changing with improvements in television viewership, corporate interest and ad revenue compared to the 2011 Women’s World Cup, but there are many examples of lack of leadership from FIFA, which supposedly aims to “develop football everywhere and for all.”

When FIFA’s secretary general, Jerome Valcke, was asked about pay disparity in December 2014 at a press conference, he scoffed at the idea of equal pay.

“The comparison between the prize money of the men’s World Cup in Brazil to the women’s World Cup in Canada, that’s not even a question I will answer because it is nonsense…We played 30th (men’s) World Cup in 2014 and we are playing the seventh women’s World Cup so things can grow step-by-step,” reported Reuters.

“We are still another 23 World Cups before potentially women should receive the same amount as men.”

Valcke’s comments reflect the organization’s apathy in bolstering investments towards women’s soccer. Rather than seeing the athletes for their abilities, hard work and sacrifice equal to those of men, the message seems to be an excuse to stay complacent. FIFA can’t seem to shake off complacency even from within their organization, though it elected its first female executive member only two years ago.

With a track record of being consistently dismissive of its female players, FIFA is the only player that needs to play catch-up. To start, it could increase the payout for this year’s World Cup teams from $15 million. For an organization that earned $2.6 billion in profit from the 2014 World Cup ($5.7 billion between 2011 to 2014) FIFA will be handing out a reward of two million dollars to the winning team, which is a 50 percent raise from the $1 million reward in 2011. That’s a sliver compared to $35 million the German men won at the World Cup in Brazil last year.

The 50 percent raise from the $1 million prize in 2011 may seem like a significant jump, but FIFA does not explicitly recognize financial contributions from Women’s World Cup. In other words, these athletes could be shortchanged without realizing it.

As a female consumer of soccer, the abuses women players face is an affront on human rights and equality. FIFA is sending a message that it doesn’t support the development of its female players and therefore, its female audiences.

The mark of a great organization is how it assists and encourages women to reach their potential. With the recent international spotlight on female soccer players, it’s time for fundamental change in how women in sports are supported.

Sources:

Edited by Olivia Yang


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