The GOAAAAAAL of Equality in Soccer

Written By: Michael Jimenez & Michael Seay

Soccer, or football (or futbol),  has always been a sport that is loved, played, and appreciated by everybody, however, players in the U.S. face copious amounts of discrimination based on race, class, and especially gender. Men’s Soccer tends to overshadow women’s soccer both in media coverage and average pay (despite the women’s team’s overwhelming success) However, slowly but surely, steps are being taken in the right direction to fix and address some of these issues.

Courtesy of: Empire of Soccer

Since the inaugural year of the Women’s World Cup in 1991, there has only been a total of 14 women of color on the United States Women’s National Team roster (Epps, 2016). To clarify, the issue of diversity is not a proprietary feature exclusive to the USWNT. This issue historically remained within both the men’s and women’s teams, however, a study in 2014 found that Major League Soccer is actually the most diverse league in the United States (Mickles, 2015).

This, however, did not keep the USWNT from taking the 2015 world cup, which brought this team face-to-face with a tidal wave of media coverage, which brought to light many of the social, gender, and class inequalities the sport of soccer is riddled with. Following the triumphant win of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the team voiced their strong opinions of unequal pay to their male counterparts, calling for justice and also filing a wage discrimination complaint against the U.S Soccer Federation.

Fun Fact: The 2015 Women’s World Cup Championship game was, and still is, the most viewed soccer game in U.S history, which includes that of any U.S Men’s soccer games (Allison, 2017).

Courtesy of: Fortune

Fifa 16 marks the first time in series history that a female was featured on the cover. As amazing of a milestone this is, it still doesn’t change the fact that the male players are paid almost 4 times more and that diversity, or lack thereof, within women’s soccer, remains a serious issue. Although the featuring of a female on this cover truly is a huge milestone, it overshadows the other issues that desperately need addressing. So where did this overwhelming lack of diversity originate from? Surprisingly, it begins with youth soccer in the United States.  

Courtesy of: Open Goal Project

The simple explanation, soccer is very much a “pay-to-play” sport. Since the boom of popularity in the 1970s, soccer quickly became a sport of middle-class and rich white families due to the cost to participate in club soccer. Families can pay anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 in travel fees, tournament fees, and club fees, leaving the lower-class families who cannot pay these fees behind (Hartman, 2017). The majority of these lower-class families are Hispanic and African American. The unfortunate byproduct of this reality is an inherent inequality and subtle racism of youth soccer not only on the surface but on an institutional level.

Courtesy of: Brantford Soccer

In order to be noticed, many players attend expensive Elite youth soccer camps which historically speaking, are very expensive to attend. These elite camps are composed almost exclusively with white youth simply because the cost to attend is far too high. As I stated before, even club soccer suffers from a lack of diversity due to the financial obligations and commitments required to allow your child to even make it to the pitch.

The photo above is of the Brantford Galaxy Youth Soccer Club which prides itself on its pink “let’s stop bullying and racism” shirts, which is ironic seeing that 99% of the players are white. It is clear why the phrase “soccer mom” has become synonymous with white mothers in the media.

Courtesy of: Aspen Institute

This chart shows how much income plays into sports participation. Participation in club soccer and other sports can now be seen as an extension of privilege simply because of the financial requirements. Sadly poverty in America is made up mostly of people of color. According to the census bureau, between 2007-2011 African Americans and American Indians made up more than half of all poverty, while Whites make up a little more than 10% (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2013). A lower-income family will prioritize using what little disposable income they have to feed their children rather than use the money on putting their children in sports.

Courtesy of: Medium

Foundations such as LA84 bring hope to the future of youth sports. This California based foundation recognizes that many sports are pay-to-play and provide equal opportunities for many players to develop their skills and possibly get noticed by scouts. LA84 “levels the playing field” to keep sports accessible to all children of all backgrounds, gender, race, or financial status.

Courtesy of: LA84

LA84’s Play For All movement, fights the discrimination of color, gender and class. By hashtagging this movement in media, the exposure alone brings in kids to play sports such as soccer, regardless of their identity or zip code.

Courtesy of: LA84

LA84 also advertises its movements on billboards, spreading the word for equality in sports. This billboard features 4 girls, with only one being white. The Play For All movement understands the importance of not only advocating women sports but also women of color. LA84 embraces anyone who wants to play.

Within the world of soccer as a whole, it is obvious that change is desperately needed. It is truly upsetting to think that a sport that really only requires a ball is so difficult to participate in. The good news? The process has already begun, however, this change is happening from the ground up, starting with equalizing the playing field within youth soccer. The process may be a slow burn until it reaches fruition, however, one day we will see the massive waves of progress that originated from the small ripples created by these first steps towards equality.

 

Bibliography

Allison, R. (2017). Women’s soccer in the United States: Introduction. Sport in Society,21(7), 993-995. doi:10.1080/17430437.2018.1401361

Epps, S. V. (2016, September 09). Soccer in the U.S. still looks like it’s for white girls. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/09/09/soccer-in-the-u-s-still-looks-like-its-for-white-girls/?utm_term=.76b40c8d88f5

Foundation, L. (2017, October 16). US Soccer: Pay-to-Play or Play Equity? – LA84 Foundation – Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@LA84Foundation/us-soccer-pay-to-play-or-play-equity-324c3bf5452b

Hartman, B. (2017). Money Matters: An Investigation of the Effects of Pay-To-Play Systems on Youth Soccer Diversity. Retrieved from http://mars.gmu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1920/10914/Hartman_thesis_2017.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Hartman, B. (2017). Money Matters: An Investigation of the Effects of Pay-To-Play Systems on Youth Soccer Diversity. Retrieved from http://mars.gmu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1920/10914/Hartman_thesis_2017.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

How Diverse Is Soccer In The United States, Really? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://the18.com/news/how-diverse-soccer-united-states-really

Latinos in Soccer: What’s the US Model So They’re Not Left Behind? (2017, December 29). Retrieved from https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/latinos-soccer-whats-us-model-theyre-not-left-behind/

Macartney, S., Bishaw, A., & Fontenot, K. (2013). Poverty rates for selected detailed race and Hispanic groups by state and place: 2007-2011. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau.

Maguire, J. (n.d.). Sport, Racism and British Society. Sport, Racism and Ethnicity,94. doi:10.4324/9780203392812_chapter_5

  1. (2018, April 06). The Measure of Diversity That Only One U.S. Pro Sport Meets. Retrieved from https://www.diversityinc.com/news/measure-diversity-one-u-s-pro-sport-meets https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2016/jun/01/us-soccer-diversity-problem-world-football
  2. (2018, April 06). The Measure of Diversity That Only One U.S. Pro Sport Meets. Retrieved from https://www.diversityinc.com/news/measure-diversity-one-u-s-pro-sport-meets

Y, S. (2015, March 30). Is pay-to-play holding the USA Women back from reflecting their diverse nation? Retrieved from https://www.thebentmusket.com/2015/3/30/8213245/usa-womens-national-soccer-team-diversity-pay-play-youth-financial

 

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