God is a woman.
On the football field, there are more and more role models demanding fairness, writes Ellen van Neerven.
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I am in a hotel room in France watching telly and there’s a hardware advertisement: a girl breaks a wall with her skills. The hole in the wall is a perfect metaphor for a Women’s World Cup that broke through so many barriers.
I’m in the chemist in a small town in The Netherlands, and there’s cut-outs of Lieke Mertens and Vivianne Miedema in front of a toothpaste display.
I’m in the subway in France and Amadine Henry’s smile is on the Coke vending machine.
I’m on the train to Germany, and young women crowd around mobile screens watching their heroes. In the lead-up to the World Cup, the Die Nationalelf (The National Eleven) launch their bold campaign ‘We Play For A Nation That Doesn’t Even Know Our Names’.
Back in Australia, Matildas’ captain Sam Kerr is sport’s most marketable face. Her sponsorship with Nike sets her total earnings to more than $1 million.
A few years ago, this kind of representation for a female athlete would be unheard of. I can’t watch this, without having tears in my eyes, crying for all those years I loved and played a game that didn’t render me important:
Queen Kerr, a proud queer woman-of-colour, has a great tournament, finishing equal second top goalscorer. And while we would like our Aussie girls to go all the way, it doesn’t prove to be our year.
US co-captain Queen Rapinoe’s heat map on the field is just too hot. Her fire curls in and out of the left wing; her smart quick runs proving unbeatable. She wins the tournament for the US, as well as being individually recognised with Golden Ball and Golden Boot.
Off the field she’s all grace and glory. Telling Trump how it is, telling FIFA how it is. She represents one of the several openly queer women on the team, including coach Jill Ellis.
“I feel like this team is in the midst of changing the world around us as we live, and it’s just an incredible feeling,” Rapinoe said after the team’s 2-0 victory over the Netherlands.
All 28 members of the United States women’s national team filed a discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation before the Women’s World Cup – relating to equal pay and working conditions.
The lawsuit stated: “Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts.”
The Matildas, Australia’s most successful football team ever, have also campaigned tirelessly for equal rights. In 2015, they received a pay increase that would not have been achieved without strike action. The top Matildas’ annual salary increased from a measly $21,000 to $41,000.
Total prize money awarded to teams participating in this year’s World Cup is just 7.5% that of the men’s last year. Though the World Cup ensured the employment of many women as referees, commentators and journalists and FIFA committed to long-term reform. Record sponsorship, attendance and global rating makes women’s football an important economic site to watch.
However, the conditions offered for women in countries like Australia and the US pale in comparison to some of the other teams in the same tournament. There is a huge gap between the rich and poor countries.
One example is the Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz, the first national football team from the Caribbean to qualify for the Women’s World Cup. Without the support of Cedella Marley and the Bob Marley Foundation (named after her musician father), there would be no team, with the players and coaching staff receiving no payment for their work. Cedella Marley spearheaded an international fund-raising effort several years ago and things picked up from there.
Current African champions Nigeria organise a sit-in in their hotel following their last 16-loss to Germany. They are asking the Nigerian Football Federation to pay outstanding fees, some of which date back to 2016. This is their third public demonstration of this kind. After hours of deliberation, shorter than 2004’s three-day long sit-in, the Football Federation agree to pay the fees.
By the end of the tournament, football emerges as a woman, God as a Queen. Women together in solidarity can break down the sexist structures and hierarchies in sport.
Organise to equalise
Whether it’s in sport or in the workplace, here are some ideas for you/your team to gain equal pay/rights/representation:
~ Infiltrate the conversation ~
Gain representation on boards and committees and meetings.
~ Value your work ~
Get to know the value of your work. Put a price on it if there isn’t one already. Interrogate your own internalised sexism / ageism / racism / homophobia.
~ What do they get? ~
Demand the same standard for yourself, ask for what the men get.
~ Talk about it, write about it ~
Let people know what’s going on, and celebrate your achievements.
~ Network ~
Meet other like-minded people in and outside your workplace / community / sports club.
~ Collect everything ~
Develop a toolkit of collective resources – podcasts, books, articles, correspondence, legal resources etc.