The Grass Ceiling
July 5, 2015 9:31 AM   Subscribe

The Grass Ceiling: How to Conquer Inequality in Women's Soccer [Atlantic link] An attorney who helped players file a gender-discrimination lawsuit over artificial turf in the World Cup proposes a way forward for the sport.
I recognize that improving conditions for the most accomplished players in a single sport only addresses a small part of the challenges females face in gaining meaningful gender equality throughout athletics. And, of course, sports barriers make up just a fraction of the global challenges girls and women continue to confront. But there’s an immediacy and universality to sports that suffuses athletic progress, however limited, with import and meaning. The “turf war” captured global attention because of the symbolism as well as the reality of a literally unequal playing field.
posted by hippybear (30 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
(I'm not a mod, but with two open threads about women's soccer, I would humbly suggest that this thread remain focused on the topic of inequality in sports, while those wishing to live chat the World Cup final should join us here. But again, I'm not a mod, so what do I know.)
posted by Tsuga at 10:02 AM on July 5, 2015


"Sports fans are increasingly seeing women’s World Cup players for what they are: elite, exciting athletes and national representatives first and foremost. Put another way, they’re viewed much as male footballers are."

But with much less diving, as the female of the species is tougher and less given to emotionally-driven dramatics than the male.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:46 AM on July 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


It's worth pointing out that Toronto did not seek to host, as it was already committed to the Pan Am Games. Canadian Soccer assuredly would have preferred games in Toronto to games in Moncton.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 10:52 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


The turf fields they're playing on are better than any grass fields they would conceivably have had, and better than some of the grass fields the men played on in Brazil. They're definitely better than the top mens league in North America uses; the turf in Vancouver is a huge improvement over the similar but aged turf the Whitecaps played on. People who think that grass-over-turf is a viable temporary strategy ought to ask Brad Knighton and Andy O'Brien of the Whitecaps what they think.
posted by Fnarf at 11:16 AM on July 5, 2015


Well than maybe they should have placed the Cup someplace else.
posted by enjoymoreradio at 11:23 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


People who think that grass-over-turf is a viable temporary strategy ought to ask Brad Knighton and Andy O'Brien of the Whitecaps what they think.

Or instead of asking two men not playing in this tournament, ask the women who are.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:33 AM on July 5, 2015 [16 favorites]


Well than maybe they should have placed the Cup someplace else.

I think that will eventually be one of the lessons of this era of FIFA -- "expand the Beautiful Game into places that the world don't typically see it" is a great idea, but maybe not so much "expand the Beautiful Game into places where you physically cannot play well."
posted by Etrigan at 11:37 AM on July 5, 2015


The women who are playing in this tournament have never played on temporary grass-over-turf. The players I mentioned have. O'Brien was injured by the shockingly abysmal turf in Seattle's CenturyLink Field, which cost them the match and nearly ended O'Brien's career. Knighton was particularly vocal about it. Grass-over-turf is a terrible, terrible playing surface if you're going to play more than one game on it (and it's pretty crappy even for the one game).

Of course, FIFA could always have forced Canada to do a Brazil and build $20-billion worth of stadiums, some of which will never get used again. Not sure how that's better, exactly.
posted by Fnarf at 11:44 AM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of course, FIFA could always have forced Canada to do a Brazil and build $20-billion worth of stadiums, some of which will never get used again. Not sure how that's better, exactly.

Uhhh... Or they could have forced the stadiums to put in real grass, instead of forcing them to put in new artificial turf.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:28 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fnarf, do you think it's conceivable that the men would ever be forced to play their World Cup games on turf? If not, how do you justify the disparity?
posted by languagehat at 1:16 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


The game itself is simply not the same on artificial turf as it is on grass. The ball rolls faster, bounces are more affected by spin, etc. Players who are accustomed to playing on grass fail to correctly judge the height or direction of bounces on a turf field. I referee a lot of soccer and see it all the time.

That turf also absorbs and emanates heat thanks to the rubber pellets that make it soft. Walk on to one of those fields on a nice summer day and you'll feel it—it'll be 10 or 15 degrees hotter than the grass you just stepped off. Those turf fields are great for recreational sites that get a lot of use day in and day out—they've saved countless rainouts in the league in which I ref—and in spots where grass is difficult to grow or doesn't make sense, but in my opinion artificial turn has no place at the higher levels of the game, men's or women's. I feel that way for all sports.
posted by stargell at 1:42 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


do you think it's conceivable that the men would ever be forced to play their World Cup games on turf?
FIFA's answer to that question seems to be yes. Turf is understandably controversial, but some of the "men would never have to put up with this" rhetoric seems a bit inaccurate. High-level international men's matchs happen on turf pretty routinely.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:51 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Did you read the last sentence in your linked article?
posted by Brocktoon at 2:10 PM on July 5, 2015


Yes, and it basically just says that Bale (one of the world's top players) hated playing that particular match on turf, and that, implicitly, this was an argument against turf overall. Fine, and that should absolutely be part of the overall discussion of the role of artificial turf in football. It's a genuinely complicated question, and I'm not taking a position on it.

My point, though, was that both UEFA and FIFA have committed, rightly or wrongly, to the idea of turf being part of football on every level, up to and including top-tier international men's football; that matches involving some of the biggest stars and highest-ranked teams in men's football were already regularly, and with increasing frequency, happening on turf; and that top FIFA officials have stated that a world cup on turf was a very real possibility.

Is there probably sexism involved in the Canadian WWC being played on turf? Sure. Does FIFA take the WWC somewhat less seriously? Undoubtably. It's not, however, quite as severe, or as cut-and-dry a case as some have suggested; and some of the discussion about it seems to have come a bit unmoored of the facts.
posted by kickingtheground at 3:10 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


> top FIFA officials have stated that a world cup on turf was a very real possibility.

And god knows the word of top FIFA officials should be taken with utmost seriousness!

Less snarkily, if the men's World Cup is played on turf next time, I will cheerfully admit to having been wrong. Until then, I'm chalking this up to sexism pure and simple.
posted by languagehat at 3:42 PM on July 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you havn't been watching USA vs Japan tonight you have missed something amazing.
posted by humanfont at 5:33 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I cannot take an asrticle seriously if it's going to bang on about the prize money on offer. Until TV companies pay more to televise the tournament, equality isn't going to happen. And TV companies aren't going to pay the big bucks until there's a real demand for it. Now why there is so little global demand to watch women's football is another matter altogether, but this article doesn't come close to attempting it.
posted by salmacis at 11:01 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


languagehat, at least FIFA hasn't seen fit to host a Women's World Cup in Qatar yet..
posted by salmacis at 11:02 AM on July 6, 2015


Until TV companies pay more to televise the tournament, equality isn't going to happen.

Why would they pay more to televise it if the stakes are so low?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:05 AM on July 6, 2015


I cannot take an asrticle seriously if it's going to bang on about the prize money on offer. Until TV companies pay more to televise the tournament, equality isn't going to happen.

When FIFA talks about paying Guam vs. Brazil, it's all "one country, one dollar". When FIFA talks about paying men vs. women, it's all "Well, we only get a few bucks for the women's TV rights, so..."
posted by Etrigan at 11:08 AM on July 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I must have missed Guam in the World Cup Finals. Are you seriously suggesting that there isn't a massive gap in the interest of the general public between men's and women's football? Even in the USA, where the gap is probably narrowest, the gap is huge.

Sys Rq, in what sense are the stakes so low? It's the World Championship for women's football, it doesn't get any higher than that.
posted by salmacis at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2015


I must have missed Guam in the World Cup Finals.

I'm talking about TV revenue payouts, which are the same for each FIFA member association. It doesn't matter whether Guam gets to the World Cup Finals -- they still get a huge payday that is the same as Brazil's payday based on television revenues. The amounts that the smallest associations get is light-years beyond even the most generous accounting of their contributions to world football. And yet, the money spigot dries up when it comes to equalizing the proverbial (and literal) playing fields between the men's sport and the women's.

Are you seriously suggesting that there isn't a massive gap in the interest of the general public between men's and women's football?

Not at all, and I don't believe you actually read it that way.
posted by Etrigan at 2:03 PM on July 6, 2015


How on earth are you bringing gender into the way FIFA distributes money among it's consituent FAs? There's not a Brazillian Men's FA and a Brazillian Women's FA. Why does FIFA do this? Because Guam has one vote, just like Brazil. Yes, it's ridiculous, and a practice that has to end for there to be any hope of ending the corruption within FIFA, but it's got Sweet FA (if you'll pardon the pun) with why the prize money for women is so much less than the men.
posted by salmacis at 3:15 PM on July 6, 2015


> Are you seriously suggesting that there isn't a massive gap in the interest of the general public between men's and women's football? Even in the USA, where the gap is probably narrowest, the gap is huge.

U.S. Women Shatter TV Ratings Record For Soccer With World Cup Win

"Sunday night's game shattered viewing records for soccer in the U.S. — played by men or women — according to preliminary numbers Fox released Monday morning." [Emphasis added.]
posted by languagehat at 3:55 PM on July 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not just more than any other soccer match, but more than either the Stanley Cup or the NBA Finals. So yeah, I just don't buy that women's soccer is so undersupported because the interest isn't there. (NBA minimum salary? $490,000. USWNT minimum salary? $40-$50K, as far as I can tell. NWSL minimum salary? $6,842.)

For those who want to see more of women's soccer but don't live in an NWSL town, the matches are all available on YouTube.
posted by KathrynT at 4:31 PM on July 6, 2015


Sys Rq, in what sense are the stakes so low? It's the World Championship for women's football, it doesn't get any higher than that.

In the sense of the thing we were talking about: Prize money.

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
was a smash hit show for a good while, but even at the peak of its popularity, I doubt the networks would have fought very hard over the rights to the otherwise equally exciting spinoff, Who Wants 75¢?
posted by Sys Rq at 6:37 PM on July 6, 2015


Do you think the public gives a toss about prize money?

KatherynT: Don't confuse the interest for a one-off big event with a general interest in the sport. If there was a greater interest, the networks would have paid more.

languagehat: so with any luck, TV networks will pay more in the future to televise the Women's World Cup, which should lead to greater prize money in the future. The prize money awarded this time around is based on what the TV networks were willing to pay.
posted by salmacis at 11:49 PM on July 6, 2015


The thing is, though, that sexism, like racism, is not rational. If you have a strong gut feeling that women just don't deserve as much as men, even if you would never explicitly say or even think such a thing, you're perfectly capable of paying them less despite how much money they bring in. I've seen libertarians saying confidently that racism and sexism are unsustainable because a clever business owner will see the business opportunity in hiring/selling to/renting to/paying competitive salaries to women or people of color; I just want to hand them a history book.
posted by languagehat at 9:06 AM on July 7, 2015


Do you think the public gives a toss about prize money?

Not in the least. But I think FIFA's undervaluing of women' soccer has the effect of their broadcast partners underbidding for it--if FIFA itself thinks women's soccer is worth significantly less than men's soccer, then why would broadcasters pay more for the rights?--which is a convenient excuse for FIFA to continue undervaluing it. Which is weird, since if they valued their own product more highly, they would make more money. They're kind of cutting off their nose to spite their face, apparently in the name of misogyny.

Fact is, regardless of relative pubic interest in one sex over the other, FIFA has tons of money that could be put in a big pile and split 50/50 whenever FIFA feels like being fair about something for once.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:09 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Misogyny? That's it, I'm out.
posted by salmacis at 4:01 PM on July 7, 2015


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