By Tom Watson
Moments after the gritty and dedicated U.S. women’s team captured the World Cup title in thrilling style, their head coach Jill Ellis exclaimed proudly that she was “so happy for every little girl that dreams about this.”
This is precisely how we hope to feel on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.
Make no mistake, the big win for the U.S. women reached beyond sports and nationalism – always a powerful combination for the viewing public. The American women were fighting for a title, but they were also grinding it out on the pitch for fairness, parity, respect and equality.
This year was a special test for FIFA, soccer’s scandal-ridden governing body, and the World Cup tournament. The field for the women’s teams was expanded to 24, increasing the opportunity for exposure for smaller nations and adding a new richness and excitement to the field. And the play was excellent. As Ian Crouch wrote in the New Yorker, the “performances were signs that, in the future, with increased fan support and funding on the national level and comprehensive, good-faith backing from FIFA—better payouts to the players, grass on the pitch rather than dangerous turf—the game could become for women in every corner of the world what it already is for men.”
Yet as Irin Carmon wrote in an excellent MSNBC post, the inequity in the sport is still stark and troubling:
Much of the inequity begins with FIFA. A gender discrimination complaint filed in Canada by 84 female soccer players over FIFA forcing the women to play on the more-dangerous artificial turf, was dropped, The Guardian reported, “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.” Players and former executives tell stories of blatant sexism, which Sports Illustrated reported “has long been part of the fundamental culture at the top of FIFA.”
As Rachel Maddow chronicled so well on her MSNBC show, it was the voluble protests of the U.S. women’s team that convinced FIFA that this would be the last women’s tournament played on the physically punishing (but cheaper) artificial turf.
The playing field is not yet level, the score is anything but equal, but the U.S. women persevered and made us proud. That’s a storyline we’re all for.
And yes, it’s fine to apply a gender lens to the women’s inspiring win and see their triumph as meaning just a little more than your everyday soccer tournament.
To quote the great soccer veteran Abby Wambach: “If you’re out there and you have a dream, and you want something, and you want something so bad, you gotta risk everything. You gotta risk being completely devastated if you don’t achieve it.”
That’s what we see in the World Cup stadiums and on the streets and parade routes and town halls of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
Oh, and here’s a tweet from yesterday that was cool with the #HillaryMen crowd:
Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.