(WOMENSENEWS)–On Saturday, June 6 host Canada opens the seventh Women’s World Cup, culminating in July 5 championship games in Vancouver. Twenty-four teams, up from 16 in the 2011 Cup, qualified from a record 132 participating national sides.
The virtually all-male Federation of International Football Associations, FIFA, must welcome the diversion. In the same week the Cup opens, embattled 17-year FIFA President Sepp Blatter unexpectedly announced his resignation amid Swiss and American investigations for bribery allegations related to the controversial choices of Russia and Qatar for the 2018 and 2022 (men’s) World Cups.
I can imagine that many female players are happy to see Blatter go.
While claiming to be the godfather to international women’s football, he suggested players should wear tighter shorts to emphasize their prettiness. At the 2012 World Player of the Year awards ceremonies, he failed to recognize American superstar Alex Morgan, a nominee. That was after he confused the wife of another American nominee, Amy Wambach, with the third nominee, Brazil’s Marta, the world’s most celebrated female player.
Negative press about FIFA’s sexism is also building. Earlier this week, for example, the head of the New York-based group Legal Momentum called out the organization’s gender discrimination in a piece for The Guardian.
Artificial Turf Controversy
Media glitches, however, pale compared to FIFA’s refusal to install grass in the six Canadian venues for this year’s World Cup, using artificial turf instead because it’s cheaper. All World Cups to date, male or female, have been played on grass. When they learned they would play on artificial turf, 60 indignant players sued on grounds of gender inequity and player safety.
Players believe grass is less fatiguing and less conducive to falls and ligament injuries. Teams who reach championship finals will have played seven games in a month, a grueling challenge by any standard.
Resurfacing a stadium with grass is possible, as Michigan Stadium demonstrated in August 2014 when it installed grass for a match between two notable European clubs. FIFA did the same in 1994 at The Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., for the men in the 1994 World Cup.
With $2 billion in profit from the 2014 World Cup, Fox Sports’ $425 million bid to televise both the women’s and men’s World Cups and tens of millions swashing around–we can now credibly suppose in alleged bribes or dubious development allocations–the players claim that a few million for grass is affordable. The summer’s injuries should certainly be carefully scrutinized.
Germany and the United States, which have both won two of the previous cups, are heavy favorites to reach the championship game. Japan, the 2011 winner, and Sweden, the 1995 winner, are expected to offer significant competition. Superstars and history give France, England, Brazil and Nigeria serious chances at major upsets. Host Canada, which took the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics, has high hopes. In global cups host nations tend to perform above expectation.
The Cup will have no summer competition from men’s world or continental cups. Most national soccer seasons –the U.S. is an exception – are over or suspended. Global television audiences are ravenous for ever more matches, pushing hopeful viewership expectations into the hundreds of millions.
That’s good news for at least some female players, whose professional salaries lag behind their male peers by astronomical factors. Even most female global superstars earn salaries of only $20,000 to $80,000, and only Brazil’s Marta and American Abby Wambach earn more than $100,000. By comparison, the world’s highest paid male players, Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, earn almost $80 million each. The next eight highest-paid male players earn between $20 million and $40 million.
With enough recognition, however, some female players are compensating for salary differentials with major endorsements and speakers’ fees, bringing annual earnings into the high $200,000s.
Natural grass turf technology has improved in speed and lowered in recent years. With a lame duck Blatter and FIFA desperate to look good, or at least better, it would be good to see the women get their Vancouver grass for the championship final games.
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