For women and girls around the globe, playing soccer is nearly impossible because of extreme costs, pitiful salaries, or religious restrictions.
From Under-16 to Olympic national teams, female soccer players still face barriers that may prevent them from playing the sport they love. While there have been strides towards equality, with both Saudi Arabia and Iran allowing women into their stadiums to watch matches, albeit a limited number, and Brazil’s national women’s soccer team receiving equal pay to their male counterparts, there remain challenges that inhibit women from even beginning to play the sport around the world.
Too often, money hinders access to soccer: professional players are often paid too little, while beginners find the cost of joining a team prohibitive. Time reports some female professional players are paid below the poverty line, while others, such as Colombia’s team, lost their meager salaries altogether. And yet, for some, including Puerto Rico’s midfielder Nicole Rodriguez, the crux of her team’s issues is much more fundamental.
“We’re right now just asking for the basics,” Rodriguez told the Associated Press. “Like fields to practice on that aren’t waterlogged, and that we’re not the second-choice clubs to have priority. We want friendly games so we can continue to improve our FIFA ranking and be adequately prepared. And camps, like four camps a year. We don’t have any of that. So, yes, it would be really awesome to get paid, but right now our focus is being able to continue our development and have the respect we deserve.”
The exorbitant costs for beginners to join the sport poses a problem for those of minority backgrounds. For Amir Lowery, former Major League Soccer player and founder of Open Goal Project, this is unacceptable.
“To just throw a blanket over everyone who can’t afford it and push them out of the equation, I think there’s a solid argument that we’re missing a lot of talent,” he told Goal.
Lowery and Simon Landau’s Open Goal Project aims to help talented players of underrepresented backgrounds earn spots on teams that otherwise would have been inaccessible. Helping parents and players navigate the world of college recruitment and travel teams allows for a more diverse and equal population of soccer players.
“We started with the belief that there were a lot of kids not even able to realize their full potential because there were all these obstacles in their way,” Lowery said to the Washington Post. “We definitely think we can eventually change the face of American soccer, change the way soccer is perceived and the way inner-city communities approach the sport.”
Outside of American soccer, players face adversity when it comes to religion. Until 2012, FIFA banned the wearing of headscarves, effectively preventing Muslim women who wear a hijab from playing soccer. Eight years later, some countries, including Saudi Arabia, still do not allow their women to play soccer. Ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, which included no teams from the Middle East or South Asia, journalist and sports activist Shireen Ahmed detailed in Time the obstacles that female soccer players from these nations face when trying to develop and receive an opportunity to play on the world stage, including abuse, corruption, and sexist federations.
While the obstacles female soccer players face seem grim, Hofstra University associate professor Brenda Elsey, co-author of Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America, believes that players from Latin America are in a prime position to inspire real, permanent change.
“Their situation, it’s better in terms that they’re fairly organized, they’ve got social media audiences that really support them,” Elsey told USA Today. “I think they’re in better shape [than past generations] to challenge that patriarchal structure.”
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