The future of soccer is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.
This May, we’ve seen the full potential of women’s soccer materialize, one good news story at a time.
It all happened in the space of one week.
On Wednesday, May 19, the U.S. women’s national team announced that they had won their battle for equal pay for men and women in national football teams. It was a victory in extremis, won after six years of struggle, at the negotiating tables after a federal judge rejected their claims.
The next day, FIFA announced the appointment of 3 women among the 36 referees chosen to officiate the matches of the World Cup in Qatar and 3 others in the list of assistant referees to participate in this high-level male competition. Never in the past 21 editions of men’s soccer have matches been officiated by women.
And on the following Saturday, the excitement reached its peak in Turin during the UEFA Women’s Champions League which saw Lyon win its 8th European title against the defending champions, FC Barcelona. It was a fitting end to a competition that saw record audiences in the stadiums and on streaming platforms.
These are three historic achievements, all the more remarkable because they converge toward the same message of diversity and equality. They are like signals of the emergence of a new world of soccer.
It is true that this is not the first time that women’s soccer has caused a sensation. The Women’s Champions League had not waited for this final to mark the spirits. With 91 648 spectators, the semi-final FC Barcelona vs Wolfsburg at the Camp Nou had marked the new record of attendance for an official women’s game.
But this edition has normalized these exceptional feats. Before the final, this edition had already gathered more than half a million spectators in the stadiums, not to mention the 14 million viewers worldwide who watched these matches via streaming.
It is also not the first time that a woman will officiate a men’s game in a high-level competition. Already, in December 2020, a Champions League match was officiated by a woman: the French referee Stephanie Frappart. Moreover, the latter had led a major European men’s final: that of the UEFA Supercup in 2019.
But this rise is not only the success story of one exceptional woman. The announcement of Fifa shows it well. 5 other women (referees Salima Mukansanga from Rwanda and Yoshimi Yamashita from Japan, as well as assistant referees Neuza Back from Brazil, Karen Díaz Medina from Mexico, and Kathryn Nesbitt from the USA) will accompany the Frenchwoman for this new historical first.
And this will be on an even more significant platform: the World Cup. Need I remind you that this competition is the most-watched sports event in the world? This is worth its weight in gold in terms of impact on soccer and the society of today and tomorrow.
Also, if the equality in salaries between men and women is a first for American soccer, it is not for the world. Australia, New Zealand, and Norway have already gone through this: these countries already had equal pay for match fees.
But with the new U.S. contracts, this is the first time in the world that the total pay gap between men’s and women’s teams will be closed. Women and men will be paid at the same rate to represent the United States and will share the prize money won by the two teams in the next editions of the World Cup.
This is the end of the guaranteed salary system for women. Now, both senior teams (women and men) are moving to a pay-for-play model. This promises a much better payoff, especially for the senior players in terms of match fees and bonuses earned at World Cups.
Overall, what makes this series of great announcements special is that they bring what was just yesterday a sensation a little more into the mainstream.
“The future of football [soccer] is female,” predicted then FIFA President Joseph Blatter in 1995. We had to wait a while for his prediction to start making sense.
It took a long time for the sexism that dominates the sports and media industries to start giving way to more diversity and equality through protest and awareness campaigns.
But more than 25 years later, we are a little closer to that future; the one where soccer becomes more feminine. In fact, the future of soccer is already here. As the other guy* said, it’s just not evenly distributed.
*William Gibson is the other guy
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