Speak up! From riots and boycotts to demands for equal pay, women’s sport faces a reckoning

MANCHESTER, England/NEW YORK July 14 (Reuters) – Women’s soccer faces a reckoning ahead of the ninth World Cup since a U.S. campaign against abuse in their professional leagues led to French players demanding the sacking of their coach and Canadians facing threats of a boycott.

Some issues will be resolved, others may drag on, but long gone are the days when players suffered in silence rather than speaking up.

„One hundred percent, I think it’s very widespread,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of global players’ union FIFPRO.

„I think it’s more common than in any other sport on the global stage. I don’t think you’ve ever had such a coordinated — or uncoordinated — wave of people speaking up, standing up, forcing change. .”

Speaking out has proven very successful in some cases.

France will play Australia and New Zealand with a clean slate under coach Herve Renard, who was hired to replace Corinne Diakker after he refused to play under him.

Canada’s captain Christine Sinclair said last week the Olympic champions were „pretty close” to a labor deal that would see them treated equally with men.

„It’s fascinating to see how quickly social change is forcing the structural change we’re seeing now, from supporters and players who have long been around barriers in women’s football to a grassroots movement. Rapid,” Baer-Hoffmann told Reuters.

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Days before the Women’s World Cup kicks off on July 20, however, some teams are still in turmoil.

Spain are without some talented players after 15 players went on a mutiny in September over allegations of a toxic environment.

„Not going to the World Cup will hurt me a lot,” Barcelona and Spain defender Mabi Leon told reporters in March.

„But my values ​​come first.”

Nigeria considered boycotting its opening World Cup match over a pay row, while allegations of sexual abuse in the Zambia squad surfaced on social media last year and are the subject of investigations by the country’s FA and FIFA.

Baer-Hoffmann said England was one of a dozen teams still in negotiations over compensation and prize money, including paying FIFA at least $30,000 for each player.

„This generation of players who have grown the game, put the game on their backs and got to where they are now, I think they’re sick of fighting,” said FIFPRO’s Sarah Gregorius.

„They are the generation that must see the struggle come to an end so that those who come after them will not know the struggle.”

American Trailblazers

Players in the National Women’s Soccer League called for reform last year after a report found abuse and sexual misconduct involving several teams and coaches.

According to the report, US Soccer, which failed to take „fundamental steps” to protect players, said it would introduce a more thorough testing system for coaches and officials as part of the reforms.

American women won the Arthur Ashe Award at the ESPYS on Wednesday after settling a lawsuit for $24 million for their courage in their fight for pay equity.

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Veteran Alex Morgan said last week that he and some of his teammates got their first settlement check in the mail a few days ago, prompting freshman Naomi Kirma to scoff.

„And I said, 'You don’t have to be grateful. You get even,'” Morgan said.

As personality clashes rage between the other teams, players form strong bonds and find allies in each other regardless of which country they wear.

„Obviously all teams use their voices a lot,” said Megan Rapinoe, who has helped the U.S. to two World Cup titles.

„Veterans talk about it, and even when they’re subjected to discrimination and unequal treatment, they still talk.”

Rapinoe was vocal in supporting Canada’s fight, and the United States, England and Japan wore purple wristbands and tape during games earlier in the year to support the cause.

„It’s been a foundation and a consensus voice for years,” said Rebecca Soudon, who played for New Zealand and is the founder of Team Heroine, a women’s sports marketing and sponsorship consultancy.

„We saw the power of a united voice when all these countries and these players and these stakeholders come together,” he added.

„I think that’s the way forward for women’s soccer, leveraging collectively, leveraging our individual characteristics, a real social resonance of women’s soccer experiences that we don’t see in men’s soccer.”

Reporting by Lori Ewing; Editing by Nick Mulvaney and Peter Rutherford

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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