When the United States Women’s National Soccer Team played its first match in 1985, not a single fan was in the stands. Thirty years later, over 23 million Americans tuned in to watch team USA take on Japan in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final. The history of the United States Women’s Soccer Team has been filled with countless ups and downs, including two failed American professional leagues, three world cup victories, an almost boycotted Olympics, four Olympic gold medals, and thousands of young girls sitting in stadiums, chanting “I believe”. While much has changed for professional female soccer players in recent years, men are still treated infinitely better. Despite equal hard work and increasing viewership, the women are not receiving the money or treatment they have worked so hard for. This is an injustice not only to female athletes, but to women everywhere.
In the months leading up to the World Cup, FIFA controversially decided to have the women’s tournament on turf fields. These fields are not ideal surfaces for any athletes, to play on. Not only do they change the pace of the game and cause the ball to bounce differently, but they are also harder on the players’ bodies than natural grass surfaces. In an interview with NPR, U.S. midfielder Heather O’Reilly explains, “On turf, unfortunately, a little layer of your skin comes up with every slide tackle so you get turf burns. It changes the game quite a bit.” These conditions make playing soccer at the highest level challenging. This is not an issue the men’s national teams ever had to face. FIFA knows that if they made the men play on turf, the tournament would be boycotted. However, the organization is aware that the women’s side of the game is dependent on World Cup’s for exposure. Therefore, the organization was willing to make the women play on the synthetic fields. FIFA claimed that grass would have been too expensive to place in the various stadiums. However, had they invested a small fraction of the money they put towards the men’s tournament towards the women’s, they would have been able to fund the grass fields. Whether they admitted it or not, FIFA simply did not think that investing more money in the Women’s World Cup would be profitable.
This act of discrimination infuriated female soccer players around the world. Many of the girls banned together and fought for grass fields. However, it quickly became apparent that FIFA would not budge on their decision. Despite this, the women from all around the world stood together, on the turf pitches, and played one of the most exciting World Cup’s in men’s or women’s history. The semi final of U.S.A. vs. Germany was a riveting match. The game stood tied through the first half, and after a missed penalty kick by German forward Celia Sasik, Team U.S.A. found a new rhythm, and won the intense match 2-0. The final was equally remarkable. In the first 30 minutes, American midfielder Carli Lloyd scored a hat trick and put on one of the most memorable performances in World Cup history. Despite these performances from the United States and countries’ all over the world, the women were not rewarded monetarily in the same manner as the men.
The first place prize money awarded to the American women was $2 million. This sum was $33 million less than what the German men’s team was awarded for winning the same tournament in 2014. In fact, the United States’ men’s team was awarded $9 million for placing in 11th and not even emerging from the quarter finals. Even though the American women were more successful, the men’s team was awarded over four times as much money.
While the pay gap is exorbitant, the women were paid what reflected the investment FIFA made into the tournament. The organization invested much more money into the men’s World Cup than the women’s. The lack of investment in the women’s tournament did not give them the opportunity to generate much revenue, and historically, the men’s teams bring in much more money for the organization than the women’s. Despite this, the women were still able to capitalize on their time in the spot light and were the most watched soccer team, men or women, in American history. The massive viewership also led to increased sales in merchandising and ticket sales in the National Women’s Soccer League. These impressive statistics make good cases for women’s soccer in America and prove that FIFA should invest more money into the women’s side.
Since the United States Women’s National Soccer Team won the world cup, they have travelled all over the country participating in their victory tour. Each of the games in this tour have been held in massive football stadiums, and has been either sold out or has sold upwards of thirty thousand seats. This fact indicates that there is a huge market in the United States for women’s soccer. Also, since the Americans won the Women’s World Cup, the National Women’s Soccer League, which is the professional league for women’s soccer in the United States, has experienced heightened success. The fan attendance rate has quadrupled, and many teams experienced sold out crowds for the first time in their history. The success of the National Women’s Soccer League is continuing. Recently a new team, the Orlando Pride, has been added to the league. This league is the most successful in the history of American women’s soccer.
Despite all of the positive growth that has occurred in the past few months, there are still people trying to prevent female soccer players from receiving equal pay. Recently, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander blocked the Senate’s non-binding resolution to close the wage gap in soccer. The resolution would have made the pay gap a priority of FIFA and would have proven that the Senate believes that gender pay should be the same. However, only one Senator needed to block the resolution and Alexander did just that. He felt that the discussion was simply not worth his time and made many statements on how the resolution was a waste. He said to the Huffington Post, "We have a budget to pass. We have a debt crisis to fix. That's what the United States Senate ought to be spending time on rather than offering opinions and resolutions about a private international entity and how they should award prizes." While Alexander’s opinion does have a certain level of validity, he is missing the bigger point. Wage equality is an issue that exists in realms far outside of sports, and it would have been a step in the right direction for women everywhere.
There are far more senators who disagree with Senator Alexander. Many were enthusiastic that the non-binding resolution would have been a great opportunity for women everywhere. Senator Leahy from Vermont is one of the many in opposition with Senator Alexander, and in an interview with Huffington Post, he stated, “If we cannot even pass a non-binding resolution, how can we ever achieve real pay equality for women?” He recognized that even though this resolution would not have automatically brought change, it would have acted as a call to action, prompting all employers to continue working for wage equality and showing women that they deserve to be treated justly.
Women’s soccer players are perfect examples of resilience. They have never been afraid to stand up for themselves while being mistreated, and have taught millions of boys and girls alike that it is important to fight for what you deserve. While the future appears to be bright, there is no doubt that women will continue to be plagued by inequality. Equality will not be possible until FIFA recognizes what millions of little girls and boys across the world already seem to know: women’s soccer is equally entertaining as men’s and is worth the investment.