Why Men Need To Stand With Women's Soccer To Confront FIFA
Tens of thousands of fans from around the world are packing stadiums in Canada to watch this year's Women's World Cup. It's been amazing the past few weeks to watch the U.S. women's national team compete and advance, and it's doing it in front of record crowds.
Unfortunately, FIFA, the governing body of soccer and organizer of all World Cups, has been in the news for a series of corruption charges that span the globe. The true impact of these actions is still unknown.
That has overshadowed some of the alarming inequities spawned by FIFA politics at the Women's World Cup -- inequities that directly impact a significant contingent of our soccer community. I want to help make sure we put a stop to it.
By now, you've probably heard the controversy around the Women's World Cup being played entirely on artificial turf. But it's important to keep talking about that issue as we see more and more instances where women's soccer is not treated the same as men's soccer -- such as this weekend, when we found out the U.S. women's team and its rival and semifinal opponent, Germany, are staying in the same hotel.
Just to refresh your memory on the turf issue, no previous World Cup, men's or women's, has been played on artificial turf -- none of the world's top tournaments have either, for good reason. I've personally experienced how much damage playing on artificial turf can do to a player's body, and several U.S. women's national team players, including forwards Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux, have spoken out against it.
Tackling can cause layers of skin to peel off. Concussions are more likely. The game also changes when played on artificial turf. The ball moves faster; it bounces higher and unpredictably. Long balls are more likely to go out of bounds, and the flow of the game is often interrupted. Players in the men's World Cup would never be subjected to these conditions. The international community of soccer fans would protest on our behalf.
In my opinion, the fact that FIFA is requiring Women's World Cup competitors to play on subpar artificial turf is a case of gender discrimination, plain and simple. Several players in this year's Cup, including many of the world's most notable soccer stars, asked FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association to treat them in the same manner as they would men and allow women players to compete on grass -- to no avail. The players then filed suit but had to drop it after FIFA countered with resistance and delay.
Throughout their battle, which has been ongoing for a year, the lack of wholehearted and outspoken support by more top male soccer players has been disappointing. Increased support from allies might have given these players more leverage when they tried to negotiate better playing conditions at this year's World Cup. I can only imagine what a few outspoken sponsors could have done to change the result.
I personally know the importance of having a broad spectrum of allies in the battle against discrimination. For me, having allies -- gay and straight, cisgender and transgender, male and female, athletes and non-athletes -- by my side encouraged me to get back into the sport I love. In fact, some of my most ardent and outspoken allies were women's soccer players.
And, with the recent announcement that nine new women's soccer players have joined the Athlete Ally Ambassador team to help make sport and society more inclusive for LGBT people, women's soccer players now make up one of the largest groups of athletes advocating for LGBT rights, with 30 ambassadors total.
Breaking down the barriers of discrimination is only possible when we stand together. Women -- across diverse races, orientations, identities and experiences -- have stepped outside of themselves throughout history to stand up for human rights. Men -- we, too, need to step up and be visible allies.
We need to consider the message that FIFA is sending to its players and fans. When it hosts the Women's World Cup on artificial turf, it is saying that men are more important -- that they deserve real grass, better performances and safer games. That female athletes are just an afterthought and that their experiences aren't a priority.
That message is not unlike FIFA's approach to LGBT athletes and fans when it decides to host the World Cup in countries with anti-LGBT laws. The ultimate takeaway for LGBT people is: You do not matter, and you are not welcome.
I know how that feels, and I know what it's like when straight people don't speak up against anti-LGBT discrimination.
But I also know what it's like when they do. That's why I'm calling on my fellow male athletes to join me in speaking out. FIFA's mission statement says that it seeks to promote the game "globally in the light of its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values."
But FIFA's core mission is antithetical to its conduct here. The organization has a responsibility to treat women and men as equally as the fans do and the players deserve. This must be the last Women's World Cup played on turf, period.
And men, we have a responsibility to demand it. Anything less is complicity, and complicity is culpability.
Robbie Rogers is a member of the LA Galaxy and a former U.S. men's national team member. He's the first openly gay player in MLS history and an advisory board member for Athlete Ally.