The IX Soccer Monday for Feb. 11, 2019

The disparate battles for equality, some must-click links, and a bit of my conversation with Camila Garcia.

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So I wanted to point out a story from my wonderful colleague Luis Andres Henao, who is the AP’s correspondent in Buenos Aires. I’m a huge fan of his work, and I got the pleasure of working with him for a month in Samara, Russia, last summer at the men’s World Cup.

Luis wrote about Maca Sanchez and her legal battle against her club team and the Argentine federation over her classification as an amateur.

“The goal is to be recognized as a professional soccer player, so it can open the doors for other women to enjoy the benefits of earning a living from what we love,” Sanchez told The AP.

In the course of reporting the story, AP discovered that it’s common for players on women’s top-flight club teams in South America to be classified as amateurs. Colombia has a paid women’s league (although its status for the coming season is in doubt). Brazil has what could best be described as a semi-pro league where just the top players are paid.

The disparity in women’s soccer is vast. While some players are looking for equitable pay to their male counterparts, others are just hoping they’ll be supplied with uniforms.

There was good story in the New York Times about how the Doncaster Belles are being left behind as other clubs in the FA are seeing unprecedented support. It kind of illustrates my point.

While some battles at the top are being won — funding is flowing into the women’s game, players are getting better contracts and fan bases are growing — there’s still a dearth of equality in much of the world.

FIFA’s global strategy for women’s soccer announced last year is a grand gesture toward closing the gap between the have and have-nots in the women’s game, but many believe it doesn’t go far enough. Megan Rapinoe, who talked about the strategy during qualifying, maintains that nations must be held accountable by dedicating a required percentage of FIFA funding to women’s programs. In the Sepp Blatter days, there was a percentage requirement, but it was so small it didn’t make much of a difference. And there was no mechanism for penalizing teams when they don’t follow through.

I get it, policing FIFA’s member federations is a nearly impossible task, and there are lots of cases of corruption out there. But there’s also been recognition by more enlightened federations that the women’s game is growing and that revenue streams are growing. And if you want “free-market” solutions to the problem, this is it. But growing the game won’t happen without an up-front investment.

That’s the sticking point for many critics, who can’t or won’t see the potential revenue created by initial investment. I came across an article this weekend from 2016, written by a male sports writer (of course) who parroted the tired talking points about how women’s players shouldn’t be paid on par with their male counterparts because presumably women don’t generate the same interest as the men. Was this dude even paying attention? I really hate when columnists jump into a topic they know nothing about just to generate clicks. (I can hear the thought process now: “I know! I’ll write about women’s soccer, a subject I know nothing about, and take an uninformed male perspective!”) The U.S. women’s team actually generated more revenue, and TV ratings, and ticket sales than the men’s team following their World Cup win.

Of course, that’s just in the United States, which is a unique. But it shows the potential is there. While it’s unlikely that something on the same scale would ever happen in Argentina (for a wide variety of reasons), there’s no reason that women’s soccer can’t be a bottom-line boosting enterprise, if done right. You need look no further than the Thorns, who owner Merritt Paulson confirmed this past fall (in an interview with ESPN’s Graham Hays) made money. And yes, I realize that clubs are different from national teams, but they’re connected as a business model.

FIFA’s newest magazine landed in my inbox this morning and the column by President Gianni Infantino maintained women’s football has already arrived, in a sense. You can read it here. But he added, pointing to the potential for growth among those “not familiar with the women’s game.”

“I am convinced that we are starting a year that will forever change the way women’s football is perceived. The eyes of football fans from around the world will be on France in a few months’ time and I am quite sure that, for those who are not familiar with the women’s game, the reaction will be of collective awe at how far it has already come, at how incredibly high its level already is.”

This Week in Women’s Soccer

My weekly reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me!

Also, we’re light on links this week because I ran out of time! Too much stuff is going on! Apologies, I’ll do better next week. Promise.

Here’s Luis’ story for The AP on Maca Sanchez.

Here’s the really well-done story from the New York Times on the Doncaster Belles.

The other ABC, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, was at Alen Stajcic’s press conference. This story is really unwinding slooowlyyyy.

The Guardian was there, too. “My career is in tatters.”

The Sidney Morning Herald on Sam Kerr’s hat trick in the W-League semis.

The Guardian looks at Sam Kerr and the W-League.

Speaking of Australia: ESPN helpful timeline of the “Stajcic Saga”.

New this morning: Disturbing story of abuse at Grand Canyon University.

Interesting story on how Penn State’s women’s soccer team evolved. And how Joe Paterno set the team back.

Tweet of the Week

Five at The IX: Camila Garcia

I spoke to Camila Garcia Perez, a board member for FIFPro, the international player’s union, who has been active in fight to improve working conditions for players in South America. Camila, who played for the Universidad de Chile and Audax Italiano, is director of Chile’s National Association of Female Soccer Players, or Anjuff.  

Annie: Do you think it’s important for players to unionize?

Camila: Of course. I think it’s the only way to defend our rights. For many years it was said that we could only dream of being professionals in this part of the world. And now, for the first time, this is an option for us. And for me the only way to have this fight is to be all together and have one voice. Our union in Chile and what we’re trying to do in South America in general I think is the way to go forward.

Annie: Do the things that the larger federations are doing motivate you?

“We have different fights. When you see that most of these elite teams have collective bargaining agreements_ that we would dream about having _ we don’t have any mechanism to negotiate. We can’t be at the table. So we’re trying, for the first step, to raise our voice, to say what we need, and try and figure out how we can develop women’s football. For example, in South America before being worried about equal par, it is important that we have different qualifications for the World Cup and the Olympics. Right now we are the only confederation that has one tournament to decide everything. So you have all the national teams working on a two-year cycle. They play two years and then two years off, or inactive. They go out of the FIFA rankings, and then two years later they start playing again. So you don’t have any constant work on the national team level. So you have to have a competition level that needs to be improved, the quality of tournaments, the money from FIFA that really needs to be controlled in the way it is used.

Annie: Is that an issue?

Camilia: There are a lot of questions among players in Latin America about how the federations are spending the money that comes from FIFA for women’s football. Is it really going to women’s football? Or is it going to develop young male players? So we are not talking about contracts yet, we’re not talking about equal pay, because we have a more vulnerable situation. It’s a difference you would not imagine in places like the United States or Australia or Sweden with strong women’s teams.

Annie: Are some if the problems with the women’s game in South America cultural?

Camila: Definitely. I think there’s a very close link between how football is perceived, how it is related to the politics in general in South America, and how males are perceived in the sport. Women trying to enter that space — I think it’s quite a challenging effort.

Annie: Should FIFA require federations to make a dedicated investment, a certain percentage of FIFA funding, in women’s football?

Camila: I think it would be a very smart decision to make. I think that to develop women’s football you ave to have a stable investment over time. What you have right now is that the budget tends to move depending on the board of the federation, and the year. That (a required investment) would help develop women’s football over time.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Annie Peterson