Second to None: Brazilian Star Marta

In Canada we have Christine Sinclair and in Brazil they have Marta. Marta is one of the most prolific soccer players ever to play the game. Many years ago I saw her play live in Rochester, New York in what was the Women’s Professional Soccer league. She was a beast – all muscle, strength, speed, agility and finesse. She has been named FIFA’s world player of the year 5 times, an incredible honour that only one other player in soccer has earned: Lionel Messi. Given that the 2016 Summer Olympics are being hosted in Brazil, this will be a prime, and rare opportunity for Marta and the Brazilian WNT to showcase their talent on home soil.

A few months ago when Brazil was in town slated to play Canada in 2-game exhibition series, the Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk did a wonderful profile on Marta: “Brazilian star Marta not settling for second: The men’s game will always be first in her country, but the star of the women’s soccer team is trying to close the gap”. In the article Feschuk outlines how women’s soccer in Brazil does not have the same foundations as in other countries such as the US, which makes the accomplishments of Brazil’s WNT remarkable, and the success of Marta bittersweet.

For me, Brazil’s WNT is one of my favourites to watch simply because of their flair, creativity, skill on the ball and attacking style. It was a pleasure to watch them in June and I look forward to seeing them this month at the Olympics. I hope the Rio Olympics changes people’s perception of women’s soccer in Brazil, but I know that institutional and social changes happen very slow. Below, pictures from Canada vs Brazil Exhibition Match at BMO Field June 4, 2016.

All pictures © Cristina Murano

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Gender Discrimination in Soccer: U.S. WNT Stands Up for Itself, Again

As you may remember, on October 1, 2014, an application was filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on behalf of 80 international players on national teams participating in the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The application argued gender discrimination, and suggested that artificial turf is substandard and would be unacceptable for men’s tournaments. The respondents were the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The application was worked on by attorneys in Canada and the U.S., and withdrawn in January 2015, six months ahead of the start of the tournament.

In between the application and withdrawal “FIFA and CSA variously threatened protesting players with suspension, delayed a court decision despite the players’ need to know what surface the tournament would be held on so they could train accordingly, and suggested they would either defy an adverse legal ruling or cancel the tournament altogether. They also repeatedly rejected the players’ settlement offers—for example, to play just the semi-final and championship games on temporary grass surfaces with all installation costs covered by private companies” (source: The Atlantic, Hampton Dellinger, July 5, 2015).

In response to the withdrawal of the lawsuit, Abby Wambach (who retired from professional play after the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup) said: “our legal action has ended,  but I am hopeful that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields – and the tremendous public support we received during the effort – marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports” (source: The Globe and Mail, David Shoalts, January 21, 2015).

And indeed this activism has continued as the U.S. Women’s National Team (WNT) filed a claim on March 30, 2016 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination. The five national team players involved are Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn – they are acting on behalf of the entire U.S. WNT.

As reported in espnW by Kate Fagan, “the U.S. women received a team total of $2 million when it won the World Cup last year in Canada. Yet when the U.S. men played in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the team earned a total of $9 million despite going just 1-2-1 and being knocked out in the round of 16” (source: espnW, Kate Fagan, April 1, 2016). This is just one example of the gross wage disparities between the women’s and men’s national teams.

Surprisingly, compensation between U.S. Soccer and the WNT are collectively bargained, and the labour union representing them (and all women soccer players) is the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association. Disputes between the union and U.S. Soccer has been on-going as the latter has argued that the current agreement is in effect until the end of the 2016 Olympics, while the former argues it can be terminated at any time (source: New York Times, Gregory Bull, February 8, 2016).

Here in Canada, the kind of activism that is being displayed by the U.S. WNT is unheard of for so many political, insidious and blatant reasons. It’d be unfair to point fingers at any one player, and the system itself can be incredibly dis-empowering to women, but Canada WNT players do have agency, and should have a vested interest in a successful result for the U.S. WNT. Cathal Kelly touched on this in the Globe and Mail and asked the CSA about their thoughts. Their response was “Canada Soccer is aware of the lawsuit launched today by members of the U.S. Women’s National Team. This action is specific to those individuals and U.S. Soccer and as such, Canada Soccer will not provide further comment”. Hmmmmmmmmmm …

As the story unfolds, the hope would be that not only does it make visible these angering and repeated acts of discrimination, but engage women’s soccer in Canada in a more complex, honest and accountable public conversation about the impact of sexism, and other discrimination in sport.

To read more about the U.S. WNT application against U.S. Soccer filed last week, go to Andrew Das’ article in the New York Times or visit espnW for full and on-going coverage.

This Month: CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Soccer Qualifying

Starting on February 10, the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament kicks off, with Canada competing on February 11, 14 and 16 to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil. For those unfamiliar with CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football), the Confederation’s primary functions are to organize competitions for national teams and clubs, and to conduct World Cup qualifying tournaments.

The roster John Herdman has put together for the tournament looks a little different then what was seen during the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. There are a number of young and veteran players who will, I imagine, need time to truly gel as a cohesive squad. CONCACAF seems like one of the best ways for Herdman to inspire a shift in the make-up and leadership of the team. Which isn’t to say that Christine Sinclair, Erin McLeod, Diana Matheson and Sophie Schmidt (to name a few) haven’t been leaders throughout their trajectory with the National Team – but it is to congratulate Herdman on developing the program for the future, and not just for the present.

The full roster for the tournament can be dissected here, and if you notice, many players who have been long-standing substitutes and/or starters are no longer part of the core group. I, for one, am excited about this. There are MANY incredible, amazing players who have been overlooked at the National level for all of the typical reasons (politics, convention, strategy, bias), but perhaps those influences are finally falling a little to the wayside.

If you’re keen to catch some (or all) of Canada’s CONCACAF matches, you can stream all Group Stage Matches on CBC Sports. The Knock-Out Stage, Semi-Finals and Final of the tournament will be broadcast live on Sportsnet One. Exciting stuff. Go Big Red Go!