Live Your Goals: FIFA’s Faulty Attempt to Support Women’s Soccer

Played by every country in the world, soccer is truly a global sport. Since 1930, countries have pumped money into their national soccer teams to vie for a spot in the (men’s) World Cup: an international soccer tournament governed by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Arguably, the competition is about more than talented soccer players working to bestow soccer glory upon their country–it is used to make political statements, boost the hosting country’s economy, and to stoke hope and inspiration during dark times.

Over six decades later (1991), the first Women’s World Cup was held in China and won by the United States. This is the moment when women’s soccer was put on the map, so to speak…as in to say, when children started asking their parents who this Mia Hamm woman was on their McDonald’s bag.  Currently in the semifinals of the tournament, Canada 2015 is the 7th Women’s World Cup.

Women’s soccer (and men’s) has grown exponentially in popularity in the United States. However, women’s soccer is not only still a poorly followed sport in the U.S.–it is looked upon with neutral indifference at best and complete ridicule and sexism at worst. Soccer has come a long way from the days when it was only for “grass fairies,” but on the off-chance that a U.S. sports fan watches soccer, it is usually followed by the clarification that they watch men’s soccer.

Live Your Goals Campaign

In 2011, FIFA launched the Live Your Goals campaign to “increase the number of girls and women playing football worldwide from 30 to 45 million by the time of the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019.” According to the campaign website, “Live Your Goals aims to encourage more girls and women to play, participate and stay involved in the game.”

Sounds like an admirable goal, right? So, what does the campaign entail? What has FIFA done since then to support women’s soccer?

The answer: very little, other than to create a webpage with pink graphics, a hashtag for social media, and a “share” link for girls to post their stories to Facebook and Twitter. FIFA is encouraging member associations to join the campaign. To support those interested in joining the campaign, the profitable and oh so generous organization will give you conceptual advice, Girls Festivals that include soccer equipment, and social media support.

The campaign is nearly effortless in nature, based almost entirely in social media, and is completely overshadowed by several public injustices to women’s soccer.

2015 Injustice #1: Inferior Playing Conditions

The (men’s) World Cup is played on grass. However, when Canada was chosen as the host of this year’s Women’s World Cup, they announced that the games would be played on artificial turf. If you’re not a soccer player, maybe you’re saying to yourself who cares? Wouldn’t that be an upgrade? Golfers always play on really nice artificial turf.

Artificial turf is made up of ground rubber tires: it completely affects the movement of the ball and how the game is played, and it would never be allowed in men’s soccer. The surface allows the ball to glide and unnecessarily bounce with a much lighter touch, makes it harder to keep from falling, and lengthens recovery time after play…not to mention the recent studies showing that exposure to the toxic chemicals in turf grass can cause cancer.

In response to the announcement, many women’s soccer players filed a lawsuit against FIFA for gender discrimination.  After little media attention, a trial that was delayed multiple times, and threats of suspension from various soccer federations, 84 soccer players from 13 countries finally dropped the lawsuit. Attorney Hampton Dellinger basically summed up the dropped case by saying organizers of the tournament wouldn’t provide natural grass even if the players won the lawsuit.

2015 Injustice #2: Blatant Sexism from a Soccer Organization for “All Players”

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who won 5 consecutive terms as leader of the organization, has been known for making sexist comments for over a decade. Blatter argued that women’s soccer would be more popular if they wore more feminine clothing, like tight spandex shorts. He mistakenly asserted that women play with a lighter soccer ball (as the FIFA president!), and at the 2012 FIFA World Player of the Year event, he didn’t even recognize honoree Alex Morgan (again…as our elected FIFA president). He is the self-proclaimed “godfather of women’s football.” You can find even more endearing comments made by our beloved, now ex-president with a quick Internet search.

If you play video games and love soccer, you’ve probably played EA Sport’s FIFA video games. The game allows you to play as hundreds of men’s teams from around the world but has never included a single women’s team. When a movement began to add women’s teams to the game, the franchise resisted because they didn’t think it would be worth the money. The company suddenly changed their mind, though, amidst all the recent FIFA scandals. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any news other than celebratory articles declaring how far we’ve come…they are finally reluctantly adding a select few teams to the FIFA game, ladies! What progress in 2015! I sure do feel supported and empowered (sarcasm). Of course it’s an accomplishment, but women are far from equally treated by FIFA or in the sports world in general.

Let’s talk World Cup earnings. After the 2014 (men’s) World Cup, the winning men’s team earned $35 million, with second place taking home $25 million. During Canada 2015, the winning women’s team will receive $15 million. In addition, many women’s soccer players outside of the U.S. don’t even earn salaries.

How about the fact that men’s soccer statistics are spouted off as common knowledge, their clout further heightened by extensive marketing, but people don’t know that first Mia Hamm and now Abby Wambach holds the record for most international goals scored among women and men? Or that our U.S. women’s national team has placed 1st-3rd in every Women’s World Cup thus far?

FIFA Secretary Jérôme Valcke didn’t even attend the opening games of this year’s Women’s World Cup because he was too busy cleaning up an investigation into FIFA corruption.

2015 Injustice #3: Rigging Canada 2015

Any sports fan can tell you that tournament brackets are based on random draw so that seeded or well-ranked teams are dispersed randomly through the tournament. However, after complaints from a bitter French team saying that they, as a No. 3 team, should have never played No. 1 Germany as early as the quarterfinal, FIFA admitted to rigging the tournament. FIFA explained that they pre-determined the placement of teams and cities so that they could sell more tickets, citing that women’s soccer is not yet popular enough to earn high revenue. It’s funny how an organization that makes over $31 million from the men’s World Cup (one of the richest sporting events in the world), produced a $10 million movie about FIFA presidents in 2014, and was recently outed for accepting millions of dollars in bribes can’t afford, at the very least, to have a fair women’s tournament.

Moral of the story?

Women’s soccer doesn’t need FIFA to create a superficial social media campaign that distracts the public from these issues.

We simply need equal treatment.

#LiveYourGoals

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