Soccer’s grass ceiling

Current adventure: Case

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is in full force. Beginning June 6, two weeks of exciting group play have come and gone with 16 of the 24 teams earning a spot in the round. The number of teams in the tournament will continue to exponentially dwindle until the finals on July 5.

The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) is playing for nothing less than first place, seeking to win the ultimate prize in soccer after a sixteen year hiatus. They won Group D (that is D for death) with two wins and a tie, but many USWNT supporters are not convinced that the team’s current level of play will be enough in the knockout stages.

Nonetheless, American’s are tuning in to cheer for Team USA. According to FIFA, five million fans watched USA beat Nigeria and secure a spot in the round of 16. This set a record number of viewers for a group stage match and the most viewers ever of a soccer game broadcasted by FOX, who has the broadcasting rights to the tournament.

Additionally, the number of teams in the tournament has increased from 16 to 24. More women and girls around the world are playing soccer; this is a fantastic stride for female athletics. The talent gap across the world is narrowing accordingly: Cameroon, ranked 53, beat Switzerland, 19, and Nigeria, 33, played a thrilling game to tie powerhouse Sweden, five.

However, women’s soccer (and women’s sports in general) has further yet to go. We are making strides but still playing catch up. The problem is not that women and girls do not want to play sports, because they do. Before Title IX, only one in every 25 girls played a high school sport; now two in five girls choose to participate in high school sports.

Part of the blame falls to the media. Even though FOX is doing a fantastic job of broadcasting and offering streaming options for every single match in this year’s World Cup, year round media altogether ignores women’s sports. ESPN’s SportsCenter devoted only 1.4 percent of airtime to women’s sports in 2010. ESPN is the worldwide leader in sports and reaches millions of people everyday; the average American spends one hour per day watching ESPN. Yet it neglects an altogether exciting, compelling, and talented group of athletes.

The argument that people don’t want to watch female sports is weak as well. It’s no stretch to believe that the five million fans who watched Team USA take down Nigeria, would want to see their favorite soccer stars on TV more frequently than every four years.

Then there is the problem of FIFA, the organizing body of soccer. FIFA is a corrupt organization and thank goodness Sepp Blatter has announced his resignation. Blatter has previously stated that female soccer players should wear tighter clothes to draw more interest in the sport. Countless soccer players, under the leadership of Abby Wambach, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against FIFA after it was decided that this World Cup would be played on artificial turf, an unforgiving surface that would never be played upon in a men’s World Cup.

Women’s soccer has the skill (have you seen Abby Wambach’s amazing volley against Nigeria or Norway’s perfect upper 90 free kick against Germany?), the support (five million fans in the US alone), and even the characters (Hope Solo and her never ending off-field drama) for a regularly occurring spot in the SportsCenter ticker and the respect of FIFA.

Girls and women are playing sports and sports fans (men and women, young and old alike) want to watch. It’s time for the powers that be to wake up and start respecting female athletes as athletes.

Heather O’Keeffe is a senior studying biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. She traveled up to Winnipeg in June to see Australia play the USA and Nigeria play Sweden. She will always love and revere the USWNT but really wants Australia to take the trophy!