World Cup puts inequality on full display

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It was a pretty good weekend for the United States this past weekend. Not only did it celebrate its 239th birthday, but the United States Women’s National Soccer Team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The USWNT finished the seven game tournament unbeaten, finishing with arguably its best performance ever in the final, scoring four goals in the first 16 minutes. The team would go on to win 5-2, avenging a 2011 World Cup Final loss to Japan.

It was the first time since 1999 that the team had won the World Cup, which is played every four years. It was also the first time a lot of people began to fall in love with the team. Sure, most casual fans knew of Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo, the team’s most popular players, but viewers saw Carli Lloyd score a hat trick and Becky Sauerbrunn lead a defensive back-four that gave up just three goals in seven games.

In fact, the final game was the most watched U.S. soccer game in history, men or women. For comparison, 25.4 million viewers tuned in for Sunday’s game, over seven million more than when the U.S. men’s team played Portugal last summer, which set the previous record. The game also drew more viewers than any game of the NBA Finals, numbers that were the highest since the Jordan-era, according to Huffington Post.

Forget the boys of summer, this summer is all about the women.

But still, despite the success and rising fame, the women’s team – World Cup champions – still lives in a country, and world, where they and their competitors are not treated as equal.

Before the games could even be played teams had to go through mandatory gender verification tests. Apparently, it was up to the teams how they verified and there was no word from the USWNT on this issue, but it made news in places like England and Germany.

Still, they played and they won (England finished third, but not without getting patronized by their male counterparts on Twitter).

Then, there’s the playing surface. In the lead-up to the World Cup, many star players, including Wambach and Japan’s Homare Sawa, voiced their displeasure with having to play the games on turf, especially since the men played on natural grass in Brazil last summer.

Artificial turf is known to cause injury and recovery problems across all sports, and the women knew that. That’s why they planned to file a gender discrimination lawsuit against FIFA, which would eventually get dropped.

Still, they played and they won.

Finally, there’s the most talked about issue that arose amid the celebration of the USWNT win – pay. Despite a roster full of players who have grown up in the Title IX era, the USWNT will be paid 40 times less than the men’s team.

The actual numbers are even more embarrassing. Germany, the men’s champions in 2014, got paid $35 million for their first place finish. The U.S. women? Two million dollars.

The total combined payout is even more staggering. In 2014, the men’s teams got $576 million, while the Women’s World Cup teams split the $15 million in pocket change that FIFA could spare.

Things aren’t any better at the domestic level, either. In the National Women’s Soccer League, salaries range from $6,000 to $30,000 – some well below the poverty line, with most financial support coming from endorsements.

Still, they play and they win.

Sports, at times, can be a wonderful microscope on society, exposing social flaws and injustices in everyday life. While this has been an analyzation of how Women’s World Cup teams were treated, it also mimics how women in the United States and across the world are treated.

Despite Title IX, the 19th amendment and the right to work alongside men (which is still not a guarantee in some occupations), an American woman made 78 cents for every dollar that a man made in 2013.

In a seemingly new age of equality advocacy, the fact that the gender pay gap and inequality still remains year after year is mind-numbing. Women shouldn’t have to prove their gender to play on an unforgiving surface only to be payed less.

American women will keep winning though, it’s about time they get paid for it.

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