The patronising slogan ‘Dare to Shine!’ flashed across the world on Sunday as the United States women’s national soccer team lifted its World Cup after a 2-0 victory against the Netherlands.
Seeing as the team tore up the field, sweeping up not only a second consecutive World Cup victory but also the tournament’s individual prizes, the Americans certainly brought their A-game. However, in labelling their victory – or the billion-viewer tournament – as a ‘dare to shine’ moment, FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, sounded the wrong note. The US players did not dare to do anything; they were simply themselves. From the moment the 28 players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in March against their employer, the US Soccer Federation, they have become champions of not only their sport but also of the fight for equality.
So far, the two sides have agreed to mediate the class-action lawsuit, which accuses US Soccer of providing lower salaries and poorer conditions to its female players. This is the latest in a series of gender discrimination disputes in international sports – including basketball, boxing, hockey and tennis.
In demanding the same pay and conditions as their male counterparts, women’s teams across sports are pushing to end comparisons of male and female athletes. To win the battle, however, some comparisons can be used as evidence in their favour.
Having now won four out of eight World Cup finals since the women’s competition originated in 1991, and four of the six Olympic gold medals awarded since 1996, the US women’s team stands as one of the best soccer teams in history. In comparison, the men’s national team has never won a World Cup and failed even to qualify for the 2018 tournament. The last Olympic medal won by the men’s national team was in 1904.
If it were just about the numbers, maybe the women’s team would be facing fewer hurdles. Sportswear giant Nike reported that the US women’s team home jersey has become the No. 1 soccer jersey – male or female – ever sold on the company’s website in one season.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the national women’s team’s games have generated more revenue than the men’s since their World Cup victory in 2015. This year, US viewers watched the women’s team victory in record numbers. Despite this, FIFA will pay female World Cup teams a total of just $30 million, a meagre award compared with the $440 million the 2022 men’s teams will take home in prizes.
Sunday’s roaring crowd chanted “equal pay” as the women collected their medals. While the fulfilment of that demand would be but one step in combating a long history of gender discrimination, in sports and beyond, it is a critical one. US Soccer needs to listen to its female players and close this unforgivable gap.
This editorial appeared in the Washington Post.