Player protests and high-level resignations are dominating headlines amid a growing sense of reckoning in women’s soccer less than five months before the start of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet resigned on Tuesday, while Nick Bontis stepped down as president of the Canadian Soccer Association a day earlier, with those countries’ players embroiled in bitter disputes with their federations.
Canada’s women’s team have vowed to boycott a pre-World Cup camp next month over equal pay and support, while Le Graet faced allegations of harassment. A government audit concluded that the 81-year-old Le Graet did not have the “necessary legitimacy” for the position.
French women’s coach Corinne Diacre is also under fire and her future might be decided on Thursday next week by a French Football Federation select committee.
Spain has also been rocked by a revolt by 15 players, who withdrew from selection consideration in protest at coach Jorge Vilda.
While the clashes could cast a cloud over the women’s global showcase, which begins on July 20 in New Zealand and Australia, players have vowed that their fights are far from over, and some say the recent resignations should be just the tip of widespread changes.
“Bontis’ departure MUST trigger sweeping change,” Amy Walsh, who played for Canada at the 2008 Olympics and earned 102 caps, wrote on Twitter. “It’s not enough.”
“Our athletes — as well as future generations of Canadian footballers — deserve so much better,” she said.
Neither Bontis nor Le Graet are leaving the game. Bontis was named Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football Council vice president for North America on Saturday, while Le Graet, who has denied all accusations, has reportedly been pegged to lead FIFA’s Paris office.
The turmoil in the two women’s programs is in stark contrast to their success on the pitch. Canada are the reigning Olympic women’s champions, while France topped their group in World Cup qualifying.
While the governance battles rage on, female soccer players have forged strong bonds — regardless of what country’s colors they wear. When the Canadian women played the recent SheBelieves Cup under protest, they found they had allies in players from around the world.
The US team, who settled an equal pay lawsuit with their federation for US$24 million a year earlier, and the Japanese wore purple tape on their wrists at the SheBelieves Cup.
“Although we are now on the other side of this fight ... our counterparts in Canada and elsewhere are experiencing the same pervasive misogyny and unequal treatment that we faced,” the US women said in a statement.
England’s Lionesses wore purple wristbands at the Arnold Clark Cup, to “display their support [for] the Canadian WNT players and for gender equality,” the team wrote on Twitter.
Canada’s call for equality goes beyond equal pay.
Forward Janine Beckie, who was in Qatar for last year’s men’s World Cup as part of Canada’s broadcast crew, said she saw the “disgusting” discrepancy between the two programs.
She cited as an example that the Canadian men’s team staff was twice the size of the women’s.
“I think we’ve been fighting blindly, not knowing what our federation was capable of in terms of support, and then we were all witnesses to what our men’s team received,” longtime captain Christine Sinclair said.
Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt told media through tears in Orlando that she nearly quit over shoddy treatment from their federation, but Sinclair and coach Bev Priestman convinced her to reconsider.
France team captain Wendie Renard last week said that she would not play at the World Cup as long as Diacre is in charge.
Spain’s 15 players declared themselves unavailable, saying in a statement that playing “significantly” affected their “emotional state.”
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