For many years, sports writers have applauded women’s sporting events, basking in their triumphs and hoping for improved participation. But now that some competitions have become broadcast or broadcast-like, the impact is even clearer: Olympic women’s soccer is the most popular sport among women in the United States.
Emma Hayes, the U.S. women’s soccer team’s coach, would like to see that continue. On Wednesday, she spoke with Play On! about the growing number of women participating in soccer and why she would like the sport to be as viewed as its male counterpart.
How is women’s soccer enjoying the momentum you and the team have generated?
Well, there’s a generation of girls that have come through now and experienced that win in the World Cup Final. This is something that their parents had to tell them that we can do, that we can be successful athletes, and so this generation of girls really come along because of our success. I think there are a lot of misconceptions, because, rightly so, there’s a lot of homophobia and stereotypes still surrounding women’s sport, but the way we’ve managed the relationship between our successes and our LGBT fans, our LGBT supporters, is one of the things that make us really stand out amongst our peers.
When you compare your career to professional sports, there’s a clear disparity, as you noted. The money women’s soccer players make is comparatively underwhelming. The financial disparity between men’s and women’s teams is shown by the fact that many pro franchises are owned by men, which gives them the ability to award more in salary and bonuses. Do you think there’s a need for a dedicated women’s federation in order to achieve equal pay?
I think there’s a perception that the game hasn’t matured yet to a degree where women’s soccer can be better compensated. I think the game is maturing and I think that it’s a lot more interesting to watch now. You look at the MLS as an example, even from the American perspective, where there’s a good mix of men’s and women’s teams, and they can achieve similar outcomes and we’re not at the level yet. There is a potential for it, but I think it’s an area that needs to evolve and need to be brought in, and in the same way that it’s for women to be really educated about men’s sport, that’s true of women’s sport, and that’s how we have to make it much more interesting.
The WUSA (Women’s United Soccer Association) was the first pro women’s soccer league that didn’t fail financially, but it just didn’t do anything because, right at the start, it was loaded with really good coaches, but they didn’t have a clear objective for that league, they didn’t have a clear purpose, they didn’t have a clear mission. And I think that’s what makes it tough, because I don’t think they had an idea of what they wanted to do with the league. So as an entrepreneur and as a manager, we have to come up with our own visions and that’s the thing that I miss from the WUSA, I miss having a leadership in that arena, that was extremely lacking.
In terms of the idea of a women’s federation, I think it’s a bit of a dream, and I don’t know if it’s an idea that’s really achievable. There is still a feeling that women’s sport doesn’t quite have the same importance as the men’s game and we’re still playing behind our own quadrants, and you can’t have that go on for too long. I think that’s why women’s sport is sort of hindered a little bit. There is a possibility of a federation, but it needs to be created within women, by women, and not a federation created by the U.S. Soccer Federation.