Women in Football
March 15, 2018: I have so many different things I want to write about that it has taken me a few days to really sit down and just choose one. Even as I am writing now, I’m not totally sure what direction I want to go in. Last week I started telling you the story of my early club years, but I might want to shift gears a little bit. You know what, let’s go for it. I know my theme today.
Today, it's all about the LADDDIESSSSS!!!
Last week, the world ‘celebrated’ International Women’s Day, which is great. It’s kind of funny that we need a special day to celebrate women, but hey, we do, and it’s nice to shower all the women in the world with praise and light. But… we’ve got a long way to go.
Also last week, in Upppsala, we had one day that decided to dump some snow. It’s Sweden, so that’s normal, right? Yes. It is. Snow plows run constantly here, and our field is no exception. At least, usually it isn’t. But last Thursday (read: ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY), when the only practice left of the day was our senior women’s team at 6:00, our custodians said sorry, we leave at 4:00 and that was the end of the discussion. No ifs, ands or buts. So, we went outside and made do. It was dangerous. It was slippery, icy, and we had to drag the goals around to clear a 15x15 box for all 18 of us to play in. Maybe this doesn’t seem like a huge deal to you, but keep in mind that we are professionals. We are paid to play; it is our job. This isn’t some low-rent league full of shmucks. We deserve better.
Similarly, on Saturday, we had the final match for the Svenska Cupen, and up until moments before kick off (I’m not exaggerating), our field still hadn’t been totally plowed. Our coach is pretty mild mannered, as most Swedes are, but I think even he was pissed. You know who ended up plowing it? Our co-captain’s father. Yep. So shout out to Mikael!
Here is a picture of the team after the unplowed practice. Look at that field. It doesn’t even do justice for how it really was. The caption our team released said (roughly) “To all you women out there who like us, are fighting for girls to have the opportunity to dream, whether it is in football or anything else, Happy International Women’s Day!”
And it truly is a fight. Most of the women on my team work or study full-time on top of their commitment to the team. And this isn’t the exception to the rule, this is the reality of being a woman in sport, (also many other professions, of course).
At this point, most of you have probably seen this statistic, but it is worth sharing again (and again, and again). Neymar earns the same salary at PSG as every woman in the world’s top seven leagues COMBINED. To break it down, Neymar earns roughly the same amount as the 1,693 of the highest paid women combined from the top leagues in France, Germany, England, the United States, Sweden, and Mexico. I am not saying that Neymar doesn’t deserve that salary… he is an international star and brings in unthinkable revenue, but what I am saying, is that the discretion between what he is making, and what the world’s BEST women are making is staggering. It is jaw dropping. And let me again remind you, these are the best women players in the world. Forget about the rest of us.
In just 2016, the minimum salary in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States was just about $7,000. SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. Let me break that down for you. $7,000 to last you the season, which runs from roughly April until October, not including preseason, not including offseason. But I think technically the contract is considered a 12-month agreement, so that means that some of those women are being paid $7,000 for a year of work. And they might have lived in a major city, like Boston (where let me tell you how far $7000 will get you… nowhere). Yes, there are host families, and stipends, and some clubs have it better than others, but this is outrageous.
And I will point out, this isn’t easy work. It is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s rise-and-grind, and sprints, and calloused hands from lifting, and aches and pains, and sprains and fractures. It’s missing every social event imaginable. It’s saying no (most of the time) to starting a family. It is absolutely a sacrifice.
It’s truly no wonder why so many women quit after college: they literally cannot afford to keep playing. Yes, of course, there are bigger injustices in the world than women not being able to play sport professionally and be taken seriously, but we can all agree, it ain’t fair.
Last year, when I was living in Australia, I had the pleasure of meeting Clare Polkinghorne briefly. She is on the Matildas (the Aussie women’s national team), the Captain of the Brisbane Roar, and still had to carry a third job to make ends meet. A THIRD JOB. For one of the Australia’s most storied and gifted
female athletes. Are you kidding me? I cannot imagine what she and so many other women would be capable of if they didn’t have to rush from training to get to their other jobs. You go girl.
Last week, I was very loosely following the Algarve Cup. It is a global invitational tournament for national teams organized by the Portugese Football Federation. Because of bad weather, the final game between the Netherlands and Sweden was canceled. The tournament released on Twitter, the following: “As a result, both teams will be awarded 1st place.”
…..Oh that’s cute. Both teams can share first place! Yes, this tournament is a friendly. Yes, the conditions may have been dangerous. But let me tell you this: not one of those players was happy about sharing first place, and I think, I just have this tiny little notion that if it was a men’s tournament, something surely would have been done about it. Delay the final? Just cancel the game and not name a winner? Do rock paper scissors? SOMETHING other than award two winners. I feel like that’s just like giving every child a medal for participation. It’s a pacifier. And I feel like the organizers took advantage that it was a women’s tournament to make this decision. Women will be happy to share a title! Women will smile even when they disagree! No one will notice if we do this anyway!
And the sad thing is, it’s true. That tournament was just a tiny blip in the history of the universe, but it really bothered me.
Last year, my team in Australia was killing it. We finished the season undefeated, won both the league and the grand final and had several of the most talented players in the entire competition on our team. After winning the league play, we were honored during half time of the men’s game (who, by the way, were in the lower division equivalent). Want to know what happened? We walked onto that field, without any direction, wading through the hoards of kids playing during halftime, with a crowd uninterested, and with our tails in-between our legs, we accepted the trophy. It was embarrassing. Here we were the best team in the state of Queensland (that’s five times the size of Japan), and no one cared. It was a shot to the ego, for sure.
The list goes on. It goes on and on and on, and the ‘injustice’ I’ve felt is nowhere near what some players have gone through, I know. A friend Maddy Evans shared this article on Twitter last week about Marta (arguably one of football’s fiercest females) and other international players. Read that for some perspective and for some actual researched information, instead of my ramblings. It’s pretty gross.
And yet.... we continue to play.
We play because we love it, not because it is full of glory. We play for the little girl inside of us who once had a dream. We play because we can, because ones before us paved this path we walk down. We play because we know it was worse for them than it is for us. We play so that one day, our daughters have it a little bit easier than we did.
And for the record, there is hope for humanity. In September, the Danish men’s national team offered their wages to the women’s team after a dispute with the Danish Football Association (DBU). The women were on strike for a world cup qualifier after failing to come to an agreement with the DBU. Read more about that here. I’d like to give those guys a standing ovation.
But we really need support. We need it from men, yes, but we also need it from women. Bring your daughters, hell, bring your sons, to watch matches. And start them young. I remember when I was 11, my parents took me to a Northern Virginia Majestics game, which is the semi-pro team where I’m from. After the game, I made sure to get EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. of their autographs. I was in awe of them. Looking back, those girls were probably teenagers, but it was enough for me. I wanted to be them. And one day, I would be. Literally. I played on the Majestics all through high school and college. Pretty funny how it comes full circle. If you’re a former player, give back to the sport and become a coach. You do not know the value you are offering the little girls of tomorrow. If you have a daughter, SIGN HER UP TO PLAY.
Because man, this sport is the best damn thing in the entire world. It will teach her to fight, to deal with adversity, to learn that she is not made of glass. It will bring her friends, and joy and pain, and lessons, and one day, maybe she will change the world.
Peace, love and football.