Women’s Football: From Mutiny and Boycotts to Equal-Pay Demands, a Reckoning Unfolds

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Women’s football is currently experiencing a period of reflection and change as various issues come to light.

The American professional leagues are taking a stand against abuse, French players are calling for their coach to be removed, and Canadian players are considering boycotts. 

As the ninth World Cup approaches, it is clear that the days of players suffering in silence are over. While some problems will be resolved, others may persist.

“One hundred percent, I think it’s so prevalent,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, the general secretary of global players union FIFPRO.

“I think it’s more prevalent than it’s ever been in any other sport on a global stage. I don’t think you’ve had this kind of co-ordinated – or uncoordinated – wave of speaking up, standing up, forcing change ever before.”

In certain instances, speaking out has been incredibly effective. France will start fresh in Australia and New Zealand with coach Herve Renard, who was brought in to replace Corinne Diacre after important players declined to play under her.

Last week, Christine Sinclair, the captain of Canada, stated that the Olympic champions were very close to reaching a labor agreement that would ensure they receive the same treatment as the men.

“It is fascinating to see how social change as a grassroots movement from the players, and from supporters who’ve been around the block for a long time in women’s football, forces the structural change that we’re now seeing at a pace that is rapid,” Baer-Hoffman told Reuters.

Days before the start of the Women’s World Cup on July 20, certain teams are facing internal conflicts. Spain, for instance, is currently missing several of their skilled players due to a mutiny involving 15 players in September. The mutiny was sparked by allegations of a harmful atmosphere within the team.

“It will really piss me off not to go to the World Cup,” Barcelona and Spain defender Mapi Leon told reporters in March.

“But my values come first.”

Nigeria has contemplated not participating in their first World Cup match due to a dispute over payment. Additionally, there were allegations of sexual abuse within the Zambia team, which were brought to light on social media last year. 

The country’s Football Association and FIFA are currently investigating these claims. Baer-Hoffman mentioned that England, along with approximately twelve other teams, are still in talks regarding compensation and prize money, which includes the minimum amount of $30,000 that FIFA will provide to each player.

“This generation of players who have grown the game, literally put the game on their backs and gotten it to the point where it’s at now, I think they’re just sick of struggling,” said FIFPRO’s Sarah Gregorius.

“They are the generation that needs to see that fight come to a close so that the ones that come after them will never have to know the struggle.”

The United States has been at the forefront of the fight for change in women’s soccer. Last year, players called for major changes in the National Women’s Soccer League after a report revealed widespread abuse and sexual misconduct among teams and coaches. The report criticized US Soccer for not implementing basic measures to protect players. 

In response, US Soccer announced plans to implement a more thorough vetting system for coaches and officials. The US women’s team also received recognition for their bravery in their battle for pay equity, winning the Arthur Ashe Award at the ESPYS and settling a lawsuit for $24 million. 

Veteran player Alex Morgan recently revealed that she and some of her teammates received their first settlement check, prompting newcomer Naomi Girma to jokingly express disappointment for not receiving one.

“And I was like, ‘Be grateful you don’t. You just get equal,'” said Morgan.

Despite ongoing conflicts in governance between different teams, players have managed to form close relationships with one another, regardless of the national teams they represent, and have found support and camaraderie in their fellow players.

“Obviously all of the teams are using their voices a lot more,” said Megan Rapinoe, who has helped the U.S. to two World Cup titles.”

“Players are talking about it and even when they’re subjected to the kind of discrimination and unequal treatment, they’re still speaking out.”

Rapinoe was outspoken in her support for Canada’s cause, and earlier in the year, the United States, England, and Japan all showed their support by wearing purple wristbands and tape during games.

“It’s been years and years of groundwork and a united voice,” said Rebecca Sowden, who played for New Zealand and is the founder of Team Heroine, a women’s sport marketing and sponsorship consultancy.

“We’ve seen the power of a united voice when all these countries and all these players and all these stakeholders come together,” she added.

“I think that’s the way forward for women’s football, using the collective, using our unique traits, that real community vibe that women’s football experiences that we don’t see in men’s football.”

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