Evanson Column: U.S. Soccer is doing wrong by the women carrying the torch
Ada Hegerberg isn't playing for Norway in this year's women's World Cup soccer tournament.
Who's Ada Hegerberg? The world's best women's soccer player.
Why isn't she playing? Inequality.
The Norwegian forward, 23, informed the Norwegian soccer federation two years ago that she would forgo the World Cup unless she saw tangible progress toward equal working conditions and overall support for the women's program. It's not entirely about money, Hegerberg told ESPN — it's more about respect in "terms of conditions, the pitches we have … and really taking a part in the club together with the men's team."
This isn't just a Norwegian issue, or even a Hegerberg issue. It's really worldwide, and U.S. Soccer is smack in the middle of it. The U.S. Women's National Team (USWNT) is presently embroiled in a lawsuit stemming from a March 2016 complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by four current World Cup players — Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn — along with a former team member, goalie Hope Solo. The suit revolves around not only equal pay, but also fair playing conditions, traveling expenses and promotional opportunities equal to that of their male counterparts. The women allege they're frequently subjected to unsafe field conditions, are provided second-rate accommodations and travel conduits and that their games are marketed far less aggressively, all relative to the men's team.
This is a problem.
The money aspect is complicated. Like it or not, supporters of the women ultimately have to get their minds around the fact that the men's game simply garners more interest, which in turn equates to significantly more money.
According to CBS News, the last Women's World Cup brought in nearly $73 million. By comparison, the 2010 Men's World Cup in South Africa made almost $4 billion. Of that, the men received 9 percent of the total revenue ($348 million), while the women received a larger percentage, 13 percent, but obviously a significantly smaller sum ($10 million). These are undeniable facts, and while somewhat cringe-worthy based on the differing levels of success (the U.S. women are defending World Cup champions, while the men failed to even qualify for the 2018 event), it's hard to argue from a simple supply-and-demand perspective.
But aside from the financial aspect, the team's other complaints seem to fall under the category of "what the heck are you thinking?"
I've always been told, "If you're going to do something, do it right." In other words, put your best foot forward. U.S. Soccer isn't doing that with their women's product, in spite of its value on the international stage.
The USWNT is good. Really good. They're presently No. 1-ranked in the world and have the World Cup and Olympic championships to prove it. They've won three of the seven World Cups played and four of the six Olympic gold medals. So while deficient in regards to revenue, they have a level of caché the men can only dream of achieving. Yet they remain second class citizens when it comes to the very necessities required to compete at the highest level.
They frequently travel commercial, while the men fly charter.
They're repeatedly forced to play on artificial turf, which is inarguably more dangerous to athletes, while the men wouldn't be caught dead on the stuff. In fact, in 2015, months removed from a World Cup win over Japan, the United States had to cancel a Victory Tour game in Hawaii as a result of abhorrent field conditions that included rocks, along with dilapidated artificial turf that was supposed to be examined by U.S. Soccer days prior — but wasn't.
And the women are marketed on a smaller scale, despite boasting two of the top-three-watched soccer telecasts in this country's history, including the Americans' 2015 World Cup Final win over Japan, which was the largest, tallying 25 million viewers.
So what gives?
They win more games, draw more attention and despite generating less revenue, turn a profit — something the men's team can't say.
Both the men and women operate under the umbrella that is U.S. Soccer, dipping from the same pool of funding provided them by sponsorships, ticket sales, player memberships, referee registrations and coaching programs. So if the women desire increased benefits, they're obligated to kneel before the U.S. Soccer magistrates and, like Oliver Twist, politely say, "Please, sir, I want some more."
Some have suggested that due to this inequality, coupled with their popularity and profitability, the U.S. Women should operate on their own — secure their own sponsorships, pocket their own ticket sales and collect their own membership fees in order to fund their own endeavors without the weight of the failing men's program holding them back.
Possible? Some say yes.
Advisable? Maybe, but I'd hope it wouldn't come to that.
I like to pride myself in the ability to view things through the lens of common sense. Far too many things become complicated despite a relative level of simplicity, and this is one of those things. Give these young women what they need to succeed. If the men are flying charter, let the women as well. If the men play exclusively on natural grass, afford the women equal protection. And if U.S. Soccer is about making money, provide these women the stage necessary to maximize the exposure that equates to the almighty dollar. That's not complicated, progressive, or even subsidization. It's just smart and fair — and from here to Norway, it just makes sense.
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