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There’s a cartoon going around that I like. I’ve seen variations but this latest is inspired by the U.S. win in Women’s World Cup Soccer.
It shows two male-presenting figures: one older and one younger. The younger says: “Dad, the coach says I kick like a girl!” and the dad replies, “That’s fantastic!”
Before the championship game on Sunday, there were reports of boys and young men looking for the U.S. team’s jerseys. There’s probably no doubt that soccer superstar Megan Rapinhoe’s jersey led the pack.
I could write a whole column about Rapinhoe, but I want to focus on the whole team and the unpleasant reality they face. Even though they and the teams they play against show tremendous skill and endurance, even though they offer fans incredible games and shots, this team and all the other women earn less in prize money than the men.
How much less? According to reports, this year’s prize pot for women is $30 million, up by $15 million from last year.
The men’s prize post is $440 million, up $40 million over last year because the women’s prize pot doubled.
It was a pleasant surprise to learn the championship game audience chanted “Equal Pay,” when the presidents of France and FIFA walked onto the pitch to present the trophies and medals.
That’s because the U.S. team is currently embroiled in a pay equity lawsuit against its national association.
The women receive a base salary that’s $30,000 less than the men; factor in bonuses, and the women earn 38 per cent less overall.
Bonuses, you say? Yes, because of bonuses paid to the men, women earn less.
The U.S. women have won the world cup four times in a row. The women’s team received $1.725M in 2015 when they won, while the men’s team received $5.375M for losing in the 16th round.
That’s right: the men got two thirds more for losing than the women did for winning the whole enchilada.
The inequities facing women elite athletes are not limited to soccer. Back in 2014, Canadian Living published a feature in which they looked at the earnings players with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) — home to many of our Olympic team players — achieved, which was zero. The CWHL didn't start paying its players until 2017 when it said players would earn a minimum of $2,000 and a maximum of $10,000.
Canadian Living ended its article with an appeal to readers to support the CWHL and women’ hockey generally. They have a point. While we wave the flag every four years for our Olympians and champions, what do we do in between times?
Maintaining the momentum of elite competition is challenging when access to national competition is limited. A few of the women on our gold-medal hockey team worked part-time to fit in training if they were lucky to get sponsorships while the rest worked fulltime at training to keep their skills up and working to pay their bills. Remember Hayley Wickenheiser flogging Hamburger Helper?
The importance of role models in elite sport matters to girls and young women. Amongst my hockey-loving friends, I counted four families with young women who played hockey seriously. I also have friends whose daughters play advanced soccer, basketball, tennis and more.
Role models promote physical activity as a desirable thing to do. Research has shown when girls are involved in sport and physical activity, they build confidence, they develop strong work habits, develop team-building skills, and value education.
The work Wickenheiser did in promoting women in sport and which Rapinhoe continues today is critical on many levels. It goes beyond pay equity to include issues of social justice.
Rapinhoe was one of the first white athletes to support Colin Kaepernick when he took the knee during the U.S. national anthem by doing the same. The U.S. team’s accomplishments on the field and off are about standing up for what they believe, and if more youngsters, both girls and boys, find that inspiring and worth emulating, I think they’ve won the biggest jackpot of all.
Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant who enjoys hockey and soccer in equal measure. Email: email@example.com