Women’s soccer in for the long ball

Sports Sports | Lifestyle
Illustration by Leone Brander
Illustration by Leone Brander

The 2015 Women’s World Cup, held in multiple cities across Canada, is setting records —in attendance, ratings, and quality of play. Ask any women’s player, however, and they will tell you that there are still many problems that plague the sport. Whether it’s player salaries, level of competition, or even lack of interest from the majority of soccer fans across the world, the sport has a lot of issues to work through.

The problems in women’s soccer start with the money. In England, the average player in the top men’s soccer league (the Premier League) will retire having made $69 151 per week for seven or eight years. For those playing in the female equivalent, some are paid just $80. This is also a problem in the U.S. The Portland Thorns may be one of the biggest women’s soccer teams in America — drawing in average attendances of 13 000 people — but star defender Nikki Marshall announced her decision to retire at the tender age of 26 for a simple but saddening reason: her professional footballing life was interfering too much with her primary job as a salesperson for Avnet Technology.

Not only is there a massive disparity between the sexes in soccer, but there are also divisions within the women’s game itself. Alex Morgan, a striker for the U.S. women’s team, makes approximately $3 million a year, mainly from third party sponsorships from companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Nike. In comparison, the Brazilian striker Marta, five-time women’s player of the year winner, and arguably the greatest female soccer player of all time, currently makes only $400 000 a year — highlighting the stark divide in the marketability of women’s football between various countries.

This divide can also be seen when considering the attendance figures for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. The 53 855-strong crowd set a record for the highest ever attendance at a sporting event in Canada. The U.S. and Canada have garnered great support throughout the tournament, with both teams playing to an average attendance of 40 423. For the rest of the teams, however, the crowds are much less impressive, with games averaging only 17 490 attendees. This further goes to show that while progress is being made, the rising popularity of women’s football is not as wide-reaching as it may appear to be.

There is also a difference between countries in the quality of play. With so few countries actively encouraging the sport domestically, there is only a small number of international teams who can compete at a World Cup level against powerhouses like the U.S., Canada, and Germany. This igno-minious and unfortunate realization has been made several times throughout this World Cup, with two teams conceding 10 times in a single game — Ecuador, facing Switzerland, and the Ivory Coast, facing Germany.

Blowout results like these affect not only the players involved, but also the spectators. The game has borne the brunt of social media critics, and while they may be a vocal minority, the fact remains that there are a number of people that believe the women’s game to be a hopeless exploration.

This mindset is changing, however. TSN has reported viewings that are four times better than games from the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and Fox Sports had a record five million fans tune in for the U.S.-Nigeria game June 15.  The women’s game isn’t perfect, and despite the strides the sport is taking, there is a long way to go. What is evident, however, is that people are getting on board with the rise of women’s soccer; a rise that will no doubt continue past the 2015 Women’s World Cup.