I’m mixing up today’s DKA a little bit. Instead of running through highlights from around the leagues, I’m going to concentrate on just three stories that really caught my eye in the last couple days.
As a soccer fan, what I love about the sport is how it appears to break down barriers and unite people all across the world. We have small countries like Antigua and Barbuda playing the United States to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. We had an African nation host the World Cup for the first time in 2010. We saw the women’s national team of Japan knock out Germany, Sweden and the mighty U.S.A. on the world’s biggest stage in women’s soccer, claiming the World Cup title by defeating a team that they never had before. But for all the ways that soccer seems to breed unity across nations, there’s also a dark side to the sport, that of its inequality across gender, race and class lines.
If we had a Friday Fail feature like our counterparts over at The Pulse, FIFA would hands-down get our nod this week. That might not be very surprising, but what you’re about to read … well, it’s just mindboggling. The governing body for world soccer has already been accused of corruption within its ranks, and criticized for its slow response to investigation. So President Sepp Blatter set up the Independent Governance Committee, consisting of eight members, to investigate. The committee nominated four women as investigators, only to be told by FIFA officials that women would not be allowed to participate:
Alexandra Wrage, an IGC member, said she was told at the lunch the nomination of any female candidates was “entirely unacceptable.”
Ms. Wrage told the Financial Times: “They sat down next to me, two senior Fifa executives. They said, ‘you are pushing too hard, leave this for another time. You’ve made a lot of progress, you should be content.’ It was so clear-cut, it was expressly stated.”
Ms. Wrage, who advises companies on anti-bribery compliance, declined to reveal the identity of the officials who, she said, had created an atmosphere of “unapologetic chauvinism.”
She added: “I was gobsmacked. We were making progress in this environment. I guess you have to admire their candour.”
I’m not sure that I admire their candour. In fact, I despise it. And it does nothing to help FIFA and its image around the world — it only creates another black eye on the face of the world’s most popular sport.
U.S. central midfielder Shannon Boxx is one of only two players of color on the Olympic roster.
Another story that caught my attention this week was an ESPNW feature by Tom Farrey on the inequality across gender and class lines within women’s college and professional soccer in the U.S. Farrey discusses the lack of color in the professional ranks, pointing out that only two members of the current national team squad named to the Olympics, veteran Shannon Boxx and rookie Sydney Leroux, are biracial.
But it’s the socioeconomic gap in women’s soccer development that Farrey really highlights, where the majority of those scouted for college scholarships and the youth national teams have had the benefit of parents who can afford to send them to private clubs or learn from professional coaches. Anthony DiCicco, son of former U.S. WNT coach Tony DiCicco, discussed the disparity and how it’s affected U.S. women’s soccer on the national stage:
It’s a system, he argues, that misses many of the best athletes. U.S. Soccer provides no scholarship funds to train promising, underprivileged girls, as it does with boys. Nor, of course, do NCAA universities, the chief beneficiaries of a system that develops talent at no cost to them. So the burden falls to the clubs, which are underwritten by parents and must cater to those with the means to pay. Some clubs might waive or discount the fees of a talented teenager, but it’s cherry-picking at best.
And yet, that doesn’t stop the underprivileged from dreaming. Eleven-year old African-American Wayneshia “Treece” Daily from College Station, Texas, said that not seeing anyone of her color on the national team made her want to play. Thirteen year old Mexican-American Maria Parrales of South Central Los Angeles, who has never heard of WPS or even Marta, the five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, dreams of playing professionally.
How can we make women’s soccer more equal and help these girls to realize their dream? Dianne Koller, director of the Center for Sport and the Law at the University of Baltimore, has an idea:
“I don’t think we should get rid of Title IX, but we do need Congress to say that making sports accessible to all kids is important,” Koller says. “We need to define what education-based sports should look like, that it should be based on a participation model and on health and wellness. Right now, we just let athletic directors and coaches draw up programs as they see fit.”
The final article I want to highlight today comes from ESPN’s coverage of Euro 2012, where reports of racism toward black players and security personel in the stadiums have been surfacing:
Racism marred the Netherlands’ preparations for its opening match Saturday against Denmark after spectators made monkey noises at players during a squad practice in Krakow, Poland, which was attended by 25,000 people.
This coming in a country where three million people died in a religious and ethnic genocide. Where are the history books hiding?
But it’s not only Polish fans:
The reported incidents came in the second match of Euro 2012, which kicked off Friday amid concerns of potential racist situations involving fans in co-host nations Poland and Ukraine.
However, Russia’s fans are under scrutiny after UEFA linked up with FARE to appoint a 31-member team of expert anti-discrimination spotters.
Two monitors, mingling with fans of each team at a match, will work to identify offensive banners, chants and behavior in stadiums, and report to UEFA within 24 hours.
UEFA has pledged zero tolerance of discrimination at the three-week tournament.
I certainly hope UEFA acts swiftly and harshly. People like that don’t deserve to be fans of the beautiful game.