Sexism in Women’s Soccer

By Kelly McGurk

U.S. Soccer, that national governing body for soccer in the United States, filed a lawsuit in federal court, which was an escalation of the ongoing labor fight over the team’s collective bargaining agreement.

The governing body for women’s soccer is suing the union that represents the players. The collective bargaining agreement expired in 2012, but has continued to be used as the guiding document for the connection between the federation and players. The lawsuit seeks to have the terms of the agreement remain valid.

U.S. Soccer additionally seeks no relief for penalties; instead, it requested “declaratory relief.” The lawsuit sated that the players union must be forced to abide by a slightly modified version of the agreement, which is set to expire in December. The U.S. Soccer federation stated that the lawsuit was filed because the union director was threatening to repudiate the agreement and the no-strike clause.

At the heart over this disagreement is whether the players have a valid labor agreement. This lawsuit essentially represents the divide between the executives of soccer and the players.

This lawsuit is not the first big-time lawsuit involving US women’s soccer this year. Earlier in the year, US women’s player unsuccessfully sued FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, because of what the players believed to be a sexist policy of having women play on turf instead of grass. Some US women soccer players joined the lawsuit with more than 60 other players from across the word against the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA.

The players were accusing the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA of discriminating based on gender by making the women’s world cup be played on artificial turf instead of grass.[1] In the United States, women college soccer players are protected from discrimination under Title IX, which extends to equipment; such as fields.

Female professional soccer players have no law and little protection against this kind of discrimination. There is a much larger component to this than the controversy surrounding the lawsuits. Sexism is deeply entrenched in FIFA.

These recent lawsuits show the deeper problem with FIFA and especially with female representation in women’s soccer. FIFA has almost no representation on the executive level. Of the 200 people that have been elected to the FIFA executive committee over the last century, all were men until 2013. In 2013, the first and only women was elected to the executive committee.

The sexism doesn’t just end with FIFA. The lack of women representation in sports can be found on the international level in other places. The International Olympic Committee has just 24 women out of 105 members. The very top of FIFA is a direct representation of the sexism that exists in women’s soccer and women in society as a whole. Slepp Blatter, who was the former President of FIFA, has suggested that women players should wear tighter shorts. Blatter recently said, “Football is a simple game that only becomes complicated once you attempt to explain the active and passive offside rules to your wife.” These comments show the kind of sexist culture that is perpetuated by the leadership of FIFA. The sexism in women’s soccer cannot change until women are given a fair and equal chance to represent themselves on the executive level.

Collectively, women’s soccer has been marred in controversy and celebrations throughout the year. These lawsuits and policies draw attention to a larger issue, women in sports. The popularity of women’s soccer has drawn more attention to popular players in women’s soccer.

The World Cup most valuable player was Carli Llloyd and the top women’s goal scorer was Abby Wambach, yet Alex Morgan appeared on the cover of FIFA’s video game. Alex Morgan has been named the most attractive women’s player by several of outlets. The media and fans have focused on the appearance and looks of women athletes instead of their talent. Women’s athletes are held to a double standard.

Yet the media isn’t focusing that these same big name stars are the ones heading the fight for women’s equality in sports. Women’s equality in sports is something that should have come years ago when women received the right to vote or the right to an education. Take away sports and you will see that this is representative of women in society as a whole.

Women still aren’t paid the same as men. Women are still objectified for their looks through catcalling, strip clubs, and entertainment. Women are still severely under represented in government as well as many other sectors of the workforce. Overall women soccer players, like women in society, are struggling with unequal pay as well as unequal field conditions.

The lawsuit between the governing body of soccer and the players union not only affects the chances of the United States participating in women’s soccer at the Olympics, but it affects the future of women in sports as well. If the player’s union loses this lawsuit it is essentially a loss for women soccer players.

Women soccer players already get paid less and if they do not play in the Olympics many of them will lose the chance to gain sponsorships, media attention, and salary upgrades. Overall, this crisis mirrors the role that women play in society. Although this lawsuit is one of the biggest things to happen to women’s soccer in its history, it has not received as much media attention as the majority of minor events in popular men’s sports.

The United States women’s soccer team is the most successful women’s soccer team in the world and it is treated as a second-class sport, just as women have been treated as second-class citizens. The fact that this controversy hasn’t gained significant attention is in a large part due to how the media shapes women’s sports in national importance. The battle involving women soccer players is representative of the larger issue of sexism in women’s sports and society and must be solved in order for everyone to have the equality that was promised to them in the United States Constitution.

 

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