Brazilian and American female football players take a step forward in their fight against gender inequalities
It is universal knowledge that football is a man’s world, leaving very little room for women to assert themselves. Only nine national football federations out of the existing 211 have put female and male players on an equal pay footing. What seems like a step forward in gender equality is only a reminder of all the inequalities remaining. According to the Global Sports Salary Survey 2017, women have fewer opportunities in sports. Women who succeed to have the same status as men earn « about one-hundred of the sums their male counterparts pull in ». In a world dominated by men, how are gender inequalities experienced by women in soccer reflected in the American and Brazilian federations? The fight over sexism is far from over in the domain of sports. In the United States, the four-time worldwide champion women’s team is paid less than the men’s team that has yet to win any world cup; in Brazil, women’s sports are not regarded at all as they are selected according to their appearance and not their performance.
The Brazilian Football Confederation (BFC) leaped to equal pay before the American Federation. In 2010, the BFC gave the same bonus to men and women players in the national championship. In 2020, the press reported that the Brazilian national football team players won their fight for equal pay. Rogério Caboclo, president of the BFC, explained at a press conference his decision to award « the same amount for bonuses and daily allowances to men and women » in selection. « Thus, the female players will win as much as the male players, there is no longer a gender difference, the BFC treats men and women equally », he added. The female players called up for the women’s selection will earn the exact same amounts as the men at each rally, including match bonuses awarded during international competitions. The BFC has also created a new key position, that of coordinator of women’s football competitions. Aline Pellegrino will be responsible for organizing the club tournaments in Brazil.
In the USA, to reach the same level as men, players in the U.S. Women Soccer team had to file a complaint against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) for gender discrimination. Immediately after receiving the world champion title in 2019, the 28 national team players – guided by their captain and icon Megan Rapinoe – decided to sue their hierarchy for wage discrimination. They felt they were ostracized because of their gender. They asked for a 66 million dollar fee–a gigantic sum corresponding to the arrears to be covered by the law on equal pay and the law on civil rights. In March 2021, Megan Rapinoe visited the White House to explain to President Joe Biden how important wage discrimination in the football world was and how essential it is to fix it. The player was straightforward to justify this discrimination. « I was devalued because I am a woman », she said after the meeting. The American players won their fight. The American Football Federation said in a statement on Tuesday, September 14, 2021, that it would offer identical contracts to men and women who play for the national team. « The U.S. Soccer Federation believes that the way forward for all involved and for the future of sport in the United States is through a single salary structure for both national teams, » the Federation declared.
However, it is important to put things into perspective. Brazilian and American female football players won a battle but not their war.
Even if Brazil’s decision to give equal pay is historical, it concerns female players selected in the National Team Only. The equality between men and women in football is not applied at the club level where the gap between men’s and women’s salaries is tremendous. Moreover, the amount of match and victory bonuses in the World Cup « will depend on the amounts allocated by FIFA and donated by the Brazilian federation to each national team ». In other words, women and men will earn the same percentage, but the budget of the men’s team is still higher than the budget of the women’s team. Male players will thus receive more than women.
For the American Federation, before being in favor of equality, it did everything in its power to explain why male players won more than their female counterparts. The Federation argued that male players made more sacrifices and « had more responsibilities ». They pretended that they faced more demanding working conditions than women players. Lawyers cite as an example the fact that T.V. audiences are three times larger when men’s games are being broadcasted than when women’s matches are on. America being a meritocratic country, it is unbelievable that the women’s football team be discredited when they won the world cup four times while the men’s team has never won any similar title. In the feminine world cup history, no team has won more World Cups than the American women’s football team, but this reality is seldom mentioned. If the women’s championships were more promoted, there would be more viewers. The problem is that women’s football is not shown enough in the media.
Economic inequalities are but one of the problems that women face in sports. Another prominent inequality female athletes face is sexist remarks about them, as is the case for the American football team, or about their bodies, which is a big problem in Brazil.
The U.S. Women Soccer team’s conflict with former U.S. President Donald Trump exemplifies the hardships women face in their everyday life. Before bringing the cup to the White House, Rapinoe said in an interview on CNN that she « will not go to the White House. » Donald Trump quickly commented on Twitter, « Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the Job! ». Once they « finished the job », the players never received their invitations. They did not receive the same treatment as under Barack Obama’s term – the latter invited them in 2015 when they won the competition. Questioned by reporters, Donald Trump explained: « We haven’t really thought about it, but we will certainly look into it. » Even if Trump had sent the invitation, American female players would probably not have gotten a foothold in the White House. Two years later, Donald Trump attacked American players when they won the bronze medal at the Olympic game in Tokyo in 2021. He claimed that the U.S. Women Soccer Team is « headed by a radical group of Leftists Maniacs ».
In Brazil, football is one of the country’s national symbols. Yet, there is no coverage of women’s participation in football in the Football Museum in Sao Paulo. It is just the tip of the iceberg of Brazil’s gender inequalities in football. In 1941, the National Sports Council forbade women to play sports that they considered unsuitable to feminine stature. As a result, many female football clubs, growing in popularity, had to close their doors. The players were dismissed. It was only 38 years later, in 1979, that playing football stopped being forbidden. Later on, in 2011, the largest Brazilian football Federation organized a major female championship. The problem was that selected players were picked according to their beauty and not their abilities. As a result, the tournament only showed attractive white women, dismissing those with short hair, dark skin, or older than 23. It shows the female body not belonging to the athlete but to the men observing them. Americans and Brazilians’ players have fought for equal pay. In theory, they have both obtained the same pay as their male counterparts. The female’s budget is lower than the male’s budget. So, even if they earn the same percentage, women receive less than men.
The Federation’s decision for American women players is recent. Let’s hope that, in fact, they get the same funding as men to have equal pay. President Trump shows that sexism goes beyond football as he did not invite the women players after their victory in the World Cup 2019, he even insulted them. Furthermore, women are still judged according to their physical appearance. In 2011, the Brazilian Federation selected women players it considered beautiful. Instead of being interested in their talent, the Federation is interested in their physical appearance. It is important not to let little girls grow up with these kinds of examples. The codes must be broken to have a future where they can develop their self-esteem. Women still experience sexism and discrimination in their Federation. Their fights make federations progress. The more Federations will ban sexist behaviors, the more women players will be considered as equal to men. Women have some reasons to remain optimistic. In October 2017, Norway was the first country to allow the same salary for between men and women. Germany has followed Norway’s decision. Perhaps one day, equal pay in soccer will exist between all women and men. As long as women keep on fighting, hope is allowed.
Laura Marty, Mohamed Mehdaoui, Precillia Ngoumela Djenabou
MC2L December 2021
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