The Revolt of the Woman Athlete

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Hope Solo’s sex life makes more news than the struggle of the world’s best athletes for basic gender equity. I open this post with those four words, “Hope Solo’s sex life,” because public fascination with her, as a woman — meaning, as a sex object (google searches of her name are usually in the pursuit of “nude pics”) — means that this post might get more traffic than would a post that leads with its true subject, a gender discrimination law suit.

Of course, if you’ve landed here looking for nude pics, by now I’ve already lost you. Instead of nude pictures of Hope Solo, I’ve given you a blurry screen grab of Brazil’s women’s national team, circa 2007.

In 2007, the year they knocked the US women’s team out of the World Cup in one of the most shocking upsets ever, Marta Viera da Silva and her insanely gifted teammates begged the world for help: their national federation had all but abandoned the team. The team had to fight to get access to the money they won in previous tournaments, their training schedule was irregular, and their support team at tournaments was inadequate. Their intervention made no news outside of light reporting of the incident by Brazilian media. Nothing changed. If anything, things have gotten worse. In 2011, Brazil’s federation (CBF) didn’t bother to order the team uniforms. They were sent to the World Cup in Germany wearing shirts for the men’s team.

That a team would do something like unfurl a protest banner at an award ceremony is a big deal. Logistically it is harder to do this than it is to raise one’s fist from a podium.

But of course, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos did just that, the world’s eyes were upon them. They were at the center of the sport spectacle. Women athletes are eternally on its margins. We have only peripheral vision when it comes to their gestures of protests. A fuzzy screen-grab.

Sixty national team players from around the world are now participating in the gender discrimination complaint filed against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association. That is twenty more players than when this complaint was filed a month ago. The jump in the numbers of women willing to identify themselves as in conflict with the World Cup’s governing bodies was provoked by the threats of retaliation circulating through national teams—players from Mexico, Costa Rica and France were told they’d either be dropped from the squad if they didn’t withdraw their names—or their national football association was told they’d lose any bid to host the women’s world cup. Instead of bullying these players into backing down, these actions galvanized them.

Women athletes care about the sport, but the sport’s governing bodies do not give a shit about them.

And mainstream sports media doesn’t give a shit about that. I’ve been blogging about this stuff for seven years: the only thing that has improved is player-activation as resistant subjects.

Mainstream sports media only pays any real attention to the US Women’s National Team when they are in competition, and only after they’ve made it to the semi-finals. The day in, day out grind of women’s sports is not news worthy. There is not a news/sports editor in the US who will tell you that women’s sports is, in and of itself, newsworthy. Those outlets will instead vomit bullshit stories about transfers and free agents and the post-game interview in which male players and managers explore a verbal universe of infinitely expanding empty space. Every day, hours and hours of bullshit about men doing nothing in particular.

The public conjured by mainstream sports media cares more about that empty space than it does about anything women athletes accomplish.

How else to explain the fact that Canada was the only country to bid for the 2015 tournament? Even though the women’s championship tournaments have been successful, as mass sporting events. And they are much less dogged by controversy—they do not require displacement or  military occupation of whole communities, for example.

FIFA accepted a bid that gave up grass for the women’s matches—in Canada, of all places—while accepting another bid built around the elaborate, delusional promise of grass in Qatar!

As FIFA downgrades the Women’s World Cup, women lose the incentive to play it. When FIFA failed to solicit a decent bid for the Women’s World Cup, it ought to have stopped the process and started over again—by proactively developing World Cup bids, in partnership with potential host countries.

Downgrading the Women’s World Cup makes playing the World Cup less desirable. And as FIFA’s indifference to the women’s game becomes more and more obvious to players, they must ask themselves why they bother.

In the VAST majority of cases, women actually give up resources in order to compete on their national squads—many don’t receive much more training than they would otherwise. They get better training from their European and US clubs, and those clubs have rightly earned their loyalty. Most national team players don’t receive a living wage through their participation in this level of competition, almost none receive commercial endorsements. Most have other jobs, and many are the primary caretakers for their families. Participation at the international level turns their lives upside down.

These athletes deserve to play on grass.

A player like Megan Rapinoe comes out as gay to the media and it makes news for a few days. The NFL throws Hope Solo under the domestic violence bus, hoping to distract media from the real story (violence is endemic to its culture—the league takes no responsibility for the damage it does to players and to the people who love them)—and it works. Hope Solo’s private life makes more news than does the fact that Abby Wambach—a player no one associates with the word “political”—volunteered herself as the lead complainant in this case.

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 9.34.42 AMAbby Wambach should be on the cover of Sports Illustrated for this. This is a tremendous assertion of her power as an athlete—and her determination to make a difference in the game.

Should players walk out, as a fan I would frankly be over the moon with gratitude. They really should strike. What is there to lose?

Let’s show the men how its done—because as far as I’m concerned men players have been absolute chickenshit when it comes to standing up to the OUTRAGEOUS corruption in their game!

We fans of the women’s game need to stand with Abby Wambach and with her colleagues. We need to stage our own boycott of the tournament, petition sponsors to withdraw their support and plan our own protests from the stands!

Comments

  1. This is a spot on critique and the question of what is to lose is just as important as what could be gained by women’s players refusal to accept FIFA’s sexism. Question – the post ends with the suggestion that we boycott and protest from the stands – I wonder if allied fans could have some strategy meetings in the near future?

  2. Just about everything in this post resonates — but I have a bone to pick re: Wambach’s leadership in the turf protest. As the lawsuit was dismissed, it seems Wambach carried the message that there just wasn’t enough time to properly secure grass playing surfaces. Mainstream media followed suit with this message (see NPR’s recent Cup coverage that gave a shoutout to your blog:http://www.npr.org/2015/06/05/412305535/womens-world-cup-soccer-kicks-off-saturday-in-canada ), and buried the more pernicious reason — “After several soccer federations, to which Fifa gives hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, threatened to bar the women involved in the lawsuit from playing on their national teams, the players dropped their lawsuit” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/03/sepp-blatter-leaving-fifa-sexist-policies). It’s great that she led the charge, but in typical Wambach style, she dropped the ball when things got too political.

  3. Thanks for your comment! Actually, Wambach didn’t drop the suit. She was the lead complainant (is that the term?), but it had to have been a decision reached collectively, by players and the firm representing them. They dropped it when the Canadian courts refused to accelerate the court process so that the case might be heard in time to effect change. When that the decision went against them, the complaint became moot, as the case would have been resolved after the World Cup. By insisting on keeping the turf issue in the headlines, in my view Wambach is pressing the case in the media. She is right to do so. We can have whatever complaints about her not scoring in the last game—but I don’t think any viewer would say that the tournament play hasn’t been impacted by turf. On any number of occasions, I’ve thought “that’s totally a turf thing” – certain ball bounces, slipping, etc. And now I am wondering if the surface doesn’t operate as a “leveler” in the way that bad playing surfaces do? That and poor refereeing? I’m not sure how I feel about that, in terms of who wins and loses (France — I struggle sometimes to hold onto my love for them, as they can be so easily broken?). But in terms of quality of play, I prefer games on grass. As a player and as a viewer. Anyway, I don’t think she’s dropping the ball at all on this point.

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