California Congress woman Speier says that there “is a reason why the United States have Title IX, which is now over forty years old. There is a reason why we put the spotlight on inequality in women participating in sports.”
Now Speier wants to focus that spotlight elsewhere: On the world of professional sports. And she wants to start with a summit on gender inequality this Wednesday, August 25, at Mercy High School in her home district of San Francisco.
Congress woman Speier was one of several legislators who sent an official letter from Congress to FIFA complaining of unequal prize money, lack of equal developmental opportunities, and different playing conditions in the wake of the Women’s World Cup.
At the time the letter seemed ambitious, but it seems to have caught some attention at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland. Speier and company received a reply from FIFA last week. On letterhead inscribed with the words “Le Président” at the top, head of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, responds that “FIFA has doubled its funding for women’s football development programs for the 2015-2018 cycle.
“Blatter’s letter states. “Together with the 15 percent of Financial Assistance Program funding that FIFA requires its member associations to allocate to women’s football, the total investment for this cycle amounts to nearly USD 70M.”
This amount seems less fair when FIFA’s 2011-2014 budget elicits the remark that FIFA needs to show “Financial Prudence, with reserves at a solid level of USD 1,523 million.”
Blatter insists the success of the 2015 Women’s World Cup is a testament to “FIFA’s commitment to supporting and developing women’s soccer around the world. “We appreciate your interest in FIFA’s work to grow women’s football at all levels. We will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of the millions of football fans around the world to help build a better future through the power of the game.”
Blatter’s letter arrived at the same time that Françoise Carrard, the head of the 15-person 2016 FIFA Reform Committee, defended Blatter in an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Matin Dimanche. In the same interview, Carrard dismissively referred to American soccer as “an ethnic sport for girls in school.”
Speier notes that women’s participation in sports is up at the collegiate and high school levels. “But after college, it’s like a road block goes up,” Speier said. “We’ve got to extend the benefits that have been given to young women in sports through Title IX to the whole panoply of sports activities for women in the professional realm.”
Pay inequality does just happen in women’s soccer, either. Nor does it happen only in the USA. While the National Women’s Hockey League, debuting this fall, is making headlines for its 15,000 a year minimum salary, even more established leagues like the WNBA, established in 1996, are a long way behind their male counterparts in terms of both wages themselves and player compensation as a share of revenue.
Speier and her staff have been researching the National Women’s Soccer League and its relationship with U.S. Soccer, amongst other things. Speier, who has advocated for gender equity throughout her political career, promises there will be more initiatives. “In my experience, once you start putting a spotlight on an issue like this, things start to happen,” she said. “Like anything else, if you don’t stay on it, they will weather the storm and go back to business as usual. You have to stay on it.”