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 The application was worked on by attorneys in Canada and the U.S., and withdrawn in January 2015, six months ahead of the start of the tournament.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.

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CWHL 2016 All-Star Game

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) is a “premier, professionally-run women’s hockey league … centrally funded, with all participating teams in the CWHL receiving equal access to financial support and given the same opportunities to succeed. The CWHL is a not-for-profit organization, with every dollar going towards building a league that is dedicated to raising the profile of women’s hockey, providing a place for the best female players in the world to compete and inspiring the next generation of female hockey heroines” (cwhl.ca).

On Saturday, January 23, 2016 the league is hosting the annual CWHL All-Star Game! All proceeds from the event go to the development of the league. Game is at 1pm at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto … exciting. To purchase tickets go here.

The Globe and Mail has recently been featuring interviews and profiles of the CWHL, which is unusual for a mainstream paper. Typically there are fringe articles about women in sport tucked in the back pages. So it was a great surprise to see The Globe post “CWHL’s Japanese skaters driven by passion for Olympic hockey podium” front and center on their website this week. The article is very insightful, and highlights the intense sacrifice and class/cultural differences that exist between women’s and men’s hockey, as through the story of Sena Suzuki.

Other interesting reads: Interview with Hayley Wickenheiser, six time Olympian and trailblazer for women’s hockey, and Interview with Brenda Andress, motivational speaker and founder and commissioner of the CWHL. The league is making a concerted effort to grow the sport and make visible the talent of women players. But they can’t do this alone, the public needs to make an effort to support the league … which is where you come in – talk up the league, post on social media: go see games. It’s that simple.

Olympic Diver Greg Louganis Recalls Scorn of Being Different

John Doyle is a writer for the Globe and Mail who primarily covers television. During the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015, he ventured into sport writing with What’s the Right Way to Cover Women’s Sports?, and penned one of my favourite anecdotes of the tournament:

The Women’s World Cup is a peculiar beast of a tournament. I’ve covered many major soccer events featuring the top male players and the tournaments have their own narrative. I was reminded of this after a couple of days in Moncton recently covering the women’s tournament there. The players and their families and friends were everywhere. One evening I saw Louisa Nécib, the great French player, out for a stroll. I must have stared, looked awed, because she gave me an indulgent smile and, I’m pretty sure, winked at me.

AH! To be winked at by Louisa Nécib … heaven on earth. Anywho, back to things … a number of months ago, Doyle interviewed Greg Louganis, one of the best divers of all time. Louganis was promoting the documentary Back on Board: Greg Louganis (produced by HBO Sports), which chronicles his journey from growing up adopted, his ascent in competitive diving to the USA Olympic diving team, coming out as gay and HIV positive in the early 1990s, and life thereafter.

Louganis has had a difficult, vulnerable and resilient life and the documentary chronicles this. It is also an incredible case study of homophobia, fear of HIV-positive people, masculinity and sport. As Doyle states in the article, Olympic Diver Greg Louganis Recalls Scorn of Being Different, those under the age of 30 may not know who Louganis is. And if this is the case, Back on Board is the perfect opportunity to familiarize oneself with him and his tremendous story (trailer).