Talks about sexism in soccer are usually focused on the sport’s international governing body, FIFA, but this time, U.S. Soccer is being taken to task.
On Sunday, the U.S. Women’s National Team was scheduled to play Trinidad & Tobago in front of 15,000 fans in Hawaii, the seventh stop on its contractually-mandated 10-game World Cup victory tour. But the match was cancelled at the last minute because of a field that had “sharp rocks ingrained all over the field” and “low-grade and aging” artificial turf that was “actually pulling up out of the ground.”
— Julie Foudy (@JulieFoudy) December 6, 2015
When the USWNT first saw the playing surface on Saturday, the players, along with coach Jill Ellis, immediately spoke out against the conditions. Later that day, U.S. Soccer announced that the match was cancelled “after a determination that the artificial turf surface is not suitable to hold an international soccer match.”
U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comment regarding the protocol for inspecting fields and the issues raised by the USWNT.
According to former World Cup champion and current ESPN contributor Julie Foudy, when the men’s team plays, U.S. Soccer sends representatives to the venue months in advance to inspect the playing and practice conditions. However, she reported that no representative was sent to inspect the Hawaii field.
“At the end of the day, we expect to be treated equally as our male counterparts,” the USWNT wrote in an essay on The Players’ Tribune explaining their decision to refuse to play under those conditions.
“The training grounds that we were given and the playing surface of the stadium were horrible. I think it’s hard because no one’s really going to protect us but ourselves,” Alex Morgan, one of the most popular players on the team, told reporters on Saturday.
“So we’re put in a very hard position because obviously we want to play in front of these fans and we want to train before the game but injuries happen when you don’t protect yourself and when you’re not protected from those higher up from you.”
The concerns about injury weren’t phantom — on Friday, USWNT star midfielder Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL during a practice in Hawaii. While that practice was on actual grass and not on the pitch where the game was to be played, the field was subpar as well with “sewer plates and plastic coverings” laying on the sidelines.
2 all the fans in Hawaii..we are extremely sorry we will not be playing. It was too risky 2 play on an unsafe playing surface. We 💜 u guys!
— Carli Lloyd (@CarliLloyd) December 6, 2015
“We’ve been told by U.S. Soccer that the field’s condition and the size of the field are the first two talking points of when they decide on a field, so I’m not sure why eight or nine of our 10 Victory Tour games are on turf whereas the men haven’t played on turf this year,” Morgan said.
When the USWNT won the World Cup this summer for the first time since 1999, it was the most watched soccer game in U.S. history. A total of 25.5 million viewers tuned in — that’s more than watched Game 5 of the World Series this year. But beyond the ticker-tape parade in New York City and Sports Illustrated covers celebrating the team’s success, the team hasn’t been able to escape the sexist attitudes that attempt to marginalize the sport.
For winning the World Cup the USWNT only received $2 million in prize money, compared to the $35 million the German men were awarded for winning the men’s World Cup last year. The surface of the women’s World Cup in Canada — artificial turf, as opposed to the natural grass the men’s teams get to play on — was the subject of a gender discrimination lawsuit that was eventually dropped.
“The shame of it is that as eager as these U.S. women’s team players are to share their World Cup win and to promote women’s soccer, they continue to feel like second-class citizens not only in pay but in something more elemental as in field conditions,” Laura Vecsey wrote for Fox Sports.
“This could never happen on the men’s side,” SiriusXM analyst Glenn Crooks, who coached Carli Lloyd at Rutgers, said, as reported by Yahoo Sports. “Why is this happening on the women’s side? Some victory tour, huh?”