As someone who knows next to nothing about soccer, I nonetheless tuned in to the Women’s World Cup Finals last night. And read avidly about it again this morning. The Americans’ 5-2 win over Japan was dazzling, and it may have made me a fan. That and the fact that someone called soccer the next feminist fight.
There was the matter of the artificial turf installed for the women’s games while the men’s teams always play on natural grass. Made of plastic and rubber, the fake stuff can reach temperatures of 120 degrees and cause burns and unnecessary injuries. A gender discrimination lawsuit filed before the games was withdrawn when it became apparent that FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Federation could not be moved on the subject. At the time, American striker Abby Wambach expressed hope “that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields – and the tremendous public support received during the effort – marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports.”
And then there’s money. Prize money being divided among the winning women’s team members is $2 million compared to $35 million for the men. Overall prize money reaches ever greater disparities. And don’t even think of the difference between what professional players of different genders make.
But still, wasn’t it glorious? Four goals in the first 16 minutes? That’s some change from the soccer games I’ve seen that go on and on and wind up with a score of 0-0. And the players – on the men’s teams as well as the women’s – lithe and trim, gracefully flying across the field (yes, I know it’s called the pitch) and managing the ball with unbelievably deft footwork. So much more enjoyable to watch than American football with its bulked-up players padded head to toe to move a few feet on the field or head-butting one another into eventual brain damage.
No wonder that worldwide football, the sport we call soccer, is revered around the world. And isn’t it great that it’s becoming so popular here? Among young girls as well as boys. “I’m so happy for every little girl who dreams about this,” American coach Jill Ellis said in a televised interview after the game.
As Bill Plaschke wrote in today’s Los Angeles Times, “The women’s team, which has long dominated the world stage and now holds the record with three World Cup championships, is celebrated not only as a powerful sports franchise, but as an affirmation of America’s commitment to gender equity on the playing fields.”