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 The application was worked on by attorneys in Canada and the U.S., and withdrawn in January 2015, six months ahead of the start of the tournament.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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Tom Brady Cannot Stop

Last week, in advance of Super Bowl XLIX, the New York Times published “Tom Brady Cannot Stop”. Written by Mark Leibovich, who typically covers politics, the piece was initially conceived four years ago, but only recently was given the green light by Brady’s long-time agent Donald Yee.

I have often wondered what makes Tom Brady so likeable and successful. Sure he’s good looking, if you like his looks, and yes, he is a talented record-shattering quarter-back in the NFL, as others are and have been. So given that – what makes him such a star? The NY Times piece illuminates my wondering, but also leaves me with more questions, among them: who is Tom Brady? Which Cathal Kelly from the Globe and Mail insightfully wrote about just a few days ago.

I watched Superbowl XLIX last night and thought it was a great match-up with amazing catches and an intense final quarter. But then, with under 30 seconds to go, a fight broke out between the Patriots and Seahawks, and I was reminded of why the NFL has such a negative reputation.

For some Canadians, especially those whose fandom lies with soccer, basketball or hockey – the hype around American football is something we just don’t understand, myself included. However, the athleticism and commitment of some of these athletes, like Brady, is incredible. Super Bowl XLIX was a fun ending to an otherwise awful NFL season.

Boy On Ice: The Life and Death of Derek Boogaard is RIVETING

As part of my reading escapade, I’ve been feverishly reading through Boy On Ice by John Branch, an award-winning sports journalist for the New York Times.

Boy On Ice chronicles the hockey career of Derek Boogaard, an awkward, shy, marginally talented kid from Saskatchewan who, because of his strength and size, was drafted into the NHL as an enforcer. This role, the horrific injuries that accumulated during on-ice fights, and the negligence displayed by NHL staff, led to his self-medication with, and addiction to, prescription drugs. In 2011, a year after signing with the New York Rangers, Boogaard overdosed on a combination of drugs and alcohol – he was 28. His family was devastated and in 2013 filed a lawsuit against the NHL. Just last year, charges were laid in connection with Boogaard’s death.

The book uses Boogaard’s life story as a case study of what can commonly happen to enforcers in the NHL. Branch integrates interviews with family, former teammates and enforcers, as well as history about the role of fighting and violence in professional hockey that has made “the enforcer” a peculiar, misunderstood, dangerous and tragic role.

An essential read for hockey fans or anyone who views sports through a critical and complex lense.