Two stories over this past week have highlighted a disturbing fact—despite the progress of women’s soccer over the past two decades, it is still not afforded the respect that men’s soccer receives.
The first story involves the controversy related to Sydney Leroux’s goal celebration in last Sunday’s United States women’s national team game against Canada.
After she scored in the 93rd minute of the match, Leroux pulled the U.S. Soccer crest on her jersey and flashed it at the Canadian crowd before “shooshing” the crowd with a finger held over her lips. Many took Leroux’s actions as a sign of disrespect and taunting because Leroux, who was born in Canada and was eligible to play for both the Canadian women’s national team and the USWNT, chose to play for the U.S.
However, what many failed to understand was that Leroux’s actions were actually a reaction to the abuse she had suffered from many CanWNT fans leading up to and during the game (that abuse has continued after the game as well).
When you chant racial slurs, taunt me and talk about my family don’t be mad when I shush you and show pride in what I represent. #america
— Sydney Leroux (@sydneyleroux) June 3, 2013
Here is one Canadian fan’s reaction to Leroux’s goal with his screaming “F*ck you, you crazy c*nt!”, clearly audible in the video.
Here’s another fan’s reaction on Twitter.
@sydneyleroux fuck u nigger
— Binto (@Bintonb) June 3, 2013
And here’s a chant from the Voyageur’s, the CanWNT supporter’s group, that was allegedly sung in the stands.
Where’s your father
where’s your father
where’s your faaather, Syd Leroux?
He’s a deadbeat and he left you
‘cause he doesn’t love you.
When racist abuse occurs in the men’s game, it is rightly, widely and immediately condemned. When it happens in the women’s game, any reaction by the player herself is apparently inappropriate.
When AC Milan’s Kevin Prince Boateng was subjected to monkey chants this past January, he picked up the ball, kicked it into the stands, took off his jersey and led his team off the field.
Boateng was rightly lauded for his actions, but somehow Leroux’s comparatively tame reaction was wrong.
In the broadcast of the U.S.-Canada game by Canadian network Sportsnet, their announcers reacted to Leroux’s goal celebration saying “You can have her, you can have her. That’s called rubbing it in… That’s way too American for me, they can have her”. Seconds later the same announcers deemed Leroux’s actions, “classless”.
When Jozy Altidore was the subject of racist monkey chants this past January, clearly audible in this video, did anyone think the referee was “classless” when he pulled both teams off the field?
When the English FA banned Luis Suarez for eight matches two years ago for racially abusing another player, did anyone think the FA was overreacting?
The fact is, considering that Leroux was the victim, she seems to be taking a lot of the heat in this situation—all of which should be directed at the Canadian fans hurling racist and misogynic abuse at Leroux. In the men’s game, such abuse in unacceptable. In the women’s game, it appears to be the victim’s fault.
The second major story making the news this week was the continued fight against the 2015 Women’s World Cup being played on turf. In an excellent piece by Bonnie Ford of ESPN, Abby Wambach’s fight against the tournament being played on artificial surfaces was highlighted.
In the article, Wambach stated,
This is not a fight against the Canadian federation, or the players, or the venues. This is an issue with FIFA, and, I think, money, and a gender discrimination issue, hands-down. The men’s World Cup will never be played on an artificial surface. We as the highest-level international players have a responsibility to see that we don’t take steps backwards, and I think this would be giant leaps backwards in terms of the way the game is played and in terms of the way the fans watch it. It’s my opinion that grass is the way the game is meant to be played for many different reasons—safety, the beauty of the game, the longevity of players’ careers. We have to put up a fight.
Even Canadian forward Christine Sinclair agreed with Wambach’s position, saying, “I would prefer every game of mine to be played on grass, it is how the game is meant to be played.”
Earlier this year, Sydney Leroux tweeted this photo after playing a club game on turf.
This is why soccer should be played on grass! twitter.com/sydneyleroux/s…
— Sydney Leroux (@sydneyleroux) April 15, 2013
In the ESPN article, Leroux commented on the photo saying, “It looked like I had been in a car accident or something. How are you supposed to play at 100 percent when you can’t slide anymore?”
Playing on turf changes the game. The ball bounces higher. It runs out of play faster. Playing on turf is more dangerous to the players—both due to the increased wear and tear and the increased collisions caused by players fighting for control of a bouncing ball.
Most importantly, playing on turf would never be acceptable for a major men’s tournament.
It shouldn’t be acceptable for a women’s tournament either.
Whether it’s combating racism, misogyny or equal playing surfaces, women’s soccer is still, sadly, taking a backseat.
John D. Halloran