Why women's football hits the mark in the United States

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Her picture made the front page of all media in the world: Brandi Chastain in black bra, falling on her knees screaming his joy after having scored a decisive penalty that sealed the victory of the American team. It was 1999, the final of the World Cup of football. Overnight, players became stars and the popularity of women's football exploded in the United States. It was not their first feat, however: the Americans had already won the World Cup in 1991.

Two million young players

Why such a success ? The reason for this is a law, passed in 1972, called Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs funded by the federal state. This had a huge impact on American sport. Until then, facs had many more men's teams, including American football, than women's. And male students were therefore more likely to get a sports scholarship. Title IX forces universities to offer the same number of scholarships and benefits to women athletes. This creates a dilemma for achieving parity. American football is one of the most successful sports and recruits a lot of athletes. But there is no female equivalent. And other disciplines like volleyball or basketball are made up of smaller teams. The universities therefore put the package on the soccer (soccer) women, which has the advantage of engaging a lot of players and costs little in terms of infrastructure. At the same time, parents who are always on the lookout for ways to get college scholarships, start pushing their girls to join the sport.

The number of participants is growing very fast. In 1991, there were 120,000 high school girls playing football, 250,000 in 1999 and 375,000 in 2015, according to figures from the Fivethirtyeight website. Today, an estimated 2 million girls of all ages are football fans and it is one of the most popular women's sports in the United States.

A men's team that hardly shines

If the Americans dominate international football so much, it is also because they have taken the lead and enjoyed a virtual absence of competition. Until recently, women's football was almost non-existent elsewhere. It has been banned in Britain and Germany for a good half of the twentieth century. At the first Women's World Cup in 1991, there are only twelve teams. The United States won two more championships in 1999 and 2015 as well as four gold medals at the Olympics. Hence the popularity of the players. The final in 2015 against Japan was seen by nearly 23 million US viewers, an absolute record for a football match. In comparison, only 17.3 million watched the final of the 2014 Men's World Cup and 11.8 million that of 2018. This is not surprising, as the men's team hardly shines. It failed to qualify for the World Cup last year and has never moved past the quarter-finals since 1930. It also attracts fewer spectators in the stadiums and therefore, less revenue.

A complaint for "institutionalized sex discrimination"

And yet, the women's team is treated far less than its male counterparts and is, in its view, grossly discriminated against at all levels: in medical treatments, coaches, the stadiums they play, transport to go to the meetings, the resources devoted to the promotion of matches … And of course, salaries. It is difficult to compare pay because each team has a different contract. But according to the text of a complaint filed, the players could win at 20 friendly matches, a maximum of $ 4,950 per match won, while men, with equal benefits, pocketed $ 13,166.

Things have changed a bit. In 2015, the women's team managed to impose not to play on artificial grass, a surface on which men refused to play. In 2017, she negotiated a five-year collective agreement with the federation that gives her a salary increase and bonuses, improves travel conditions and income on marketing … But the players' salaries are still below those of their male counterparts.

Three months before the Women's World Cup in France, the 28 members of the national team hit a big blow. They filed a lawsuit against their federation for "institutionalized sex discrimination". To be continued…

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