The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup has kicked off, and already, there’s plenty to talk about regarding the way women’s soccer is viewed differently from the men’s game.
Most notably, the United States – the defending champion and tournament favourite – earned criticism following its opening match June 11, in which it obliterated Thailand 13-0. The score set a new record for the most one-sided result in World Cup history.
Fan weren’t irked by the fact the U.S. won by so many goals, but by the way in which the players behaved after each one. The players celebrated some of the team’s final few goals as passionately as they celebrated the first. Many people felt it showed poor sportsmanship to react so boastfully against a clearly inferior opponent.
TSN’s broadcasting panel for the game, which included retired Canadian national team players Clare Rustad, Diana Matheson and Kaylyn Kyle, called the American team’s behaviour “disgraceful” and “classless.”
While I agree the excessive celebrations were in poor taste, I understand why they did it – to make a statement.
Earlier this year, the team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation. The lawsuit seeks an equal pay structure to the U.S. men’s national team, as the two currently have different collective bargaining agreements.
This disparity in compensation has been evident in recent years. At the FIFA World Cup in 2014, the U.S. men’s team went out in the round of 16, yet earned a performance bonus of nearly $5.4 million, according to a report from CBC. At the FIFA Women’s World Cup the following year, the U.S. team received a pay bonus of just $1.72 million, despite winning the tournament.
Yes, there are perhaps reasons why the men’s team earns more money – FIFA's male soccer tournaments pull in much bigger audiences, which means more revenue is generated from ticket and merchandise sales, broadcast deals, sponsorships, advertising and so forth. It’s clear there is work to be done to better promote the women’s game, so this revenue gap can continue to get smaller.
But sports writer Sally Jenkins made a great point recently in the Washington Post – it’s becoming harder and harder for USSF to defend its pay structure, given the dominance of the women’s team and the recent lackluster performances of the men’s team. How can you justify continuing to pay the men’s team more, when it failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2018? It's not like the U.S. men's team is hammering its opponents 13-0.
Maybe the U.S. women’s team wants the world to take notice. They scored more goals against Thailand than the men’s team did in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups combined.
Thumping Thailand and celebrating goals 10 through 13 gained the U.S. women's team some notoriety, but perhaps it will also bring attention to the equal pay issue.