Just days after the BBC laid out a detailed expose of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, in December 2010, Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup and Qatar was awarded hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup. But it took until May 2015 for seven major FIFA officials to be arrested in Zurich. Later they and two other FIFA officials and five corporate executives were charged by the U.S. Justice Department over allegations of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies that go back over a 24-year period.
In the wake of the accusations of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption within the organization, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who was elected to a fifth term not long after the scandal was made public, announced his resignation and then withdrew it, saying he will resign in February 2016.
The one shining moment for FIFA in the midst of all this scandal and turmoil has been the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team winning the Women’s World Cup for the third time. Their final match against Japan was one for the record books. It was the highest scoring final in the tournament’s history and U.S. player Carli Lloyd scored the first hat trick and made the fastest first score in World Cup history. And it shattered television ratings; it was the most watched soccer match in U.S. history.
The inequity of championship money for men’s sports versus women’s sports stands as another shockingly ugly reminder of the gender inequity in sports. And from what we witnessed, it’s clear in real time that FIFA doesn’t value its women players.
The U.S. women’s team took home $2 million for their spectacular win, $33 million less in prize money than Germany took home in 2014 when they won the Men’s World Cup according to the BBC. The women were also required to play on artificial turf and competing teams had to stay in the same hotels. And according to PBS, last year’s monies set aside for Men’s World Cup rewards totaled $576 million while the rewards amount this year for the Women’s World Cup was a mere $15 million.
Next month marks the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Battle of the Sexes that was held between tennis legend Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, referred to in a 1973 “Time Magazine” cover as “The Happy Hustler.” Held in the Houston Astrodome in 1973, the $100,000 winner-take-all purse went to King.
King knew that for women to have an equal opportunity in the sports world, it needed to start with equal prize money. In the year prior to this epic event with Riggs, she made $15,000 less than the men’s tennis champion. So she said she wouldn’t play in the 1973 U. S. Open if the prize money for the women didn’t equal the men’s, and she wasn’t afraid to stand her ground.
She won the battle but was called “belligerent” for making the demand for equal and fair treatment. She could have retired from active play and lived on her formidable reputation from that victory alone. But she didn’t achieve one victory and walk away. The reason King is still so relevant today is that she remains actively involved, lending her support to help others achieve their victories.
Hopefully some of the stars of women’s soccer, like Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe will do for women’s soccer what King did for women’s tennis. They are the latest sports “sheroes” with real fan followings. It they are willing to use their popularity to address the inequities in sports for women, it will make a world of difference for the many young girls of today who are playing soccer in local leagues and dreaming of playing in a future World Cup, just like one of their sheroes.
Then when Blatter finally resigns, there will hopefully be a restructuring of FIFA that includes some equality in prize money and the hiring of some women executives to finally eliminate the outdated reign of the “good old boys network.”
Photos courtesy of Instagram @FIFAWORLDCUP.
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