FIFA needs to do more to grow women’s soccer, said Julie Foudy, two-time World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist, April 21 at Princeton University.
“The mission of FIFA as a non-profit is to pour that money back into the game and to grow the game. That’s what kills me. They have all this money and they’re not pouring it back into the game,” Foudy said, in response to a question from a women’s varsity soccer player.
Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly, both now-retired captains of the women’s national soccer team, spoke about the work that has already been done to grow women’s soccer and what remains to be done. Lilly has represented the United States in international play more than any other soccer player in history. Foudy ranks fourth on that list. Both women have earned two World Cup titles and two Olympic gold medals.
Foudy was critical of FIFA for not investing more in women’s soccer. When critics say that the sponsors aren’t there to support it, it’s because there is no market yet, Foudy said. “Invest a little bit and you’ll get huge returns. You have to build the market and the sponsors will come and everything will follow from there,” she said. “It starts with FIFA. It starts at the top.”
Foudy’s criticism of FIFA comes in the wake of a federal complaint filed in March by five top players of the women’s national soccer team, accusing U.S. Soccer of wage discrimination. “Clearly, the women deserve more. The question is, ‘how much more?’” Foudy said.
A few days before the talk, Foudy retweeted a message by ESPN that said, “The U.S. Soccer Federation says the USWNT earns only 2.2 percent less than the men.” In an interview with ESPN, Foudy said, “The compensation is not that different. The compensation that [the players] gave is inaccurate and it’s not that different.”
“Fair and equal are two very different things,” Foudy said. “If it is revenue, and the men traditionally make more, how much do you weigh in?”
Though Foudy insists that the pay is comparable, she continues to hold FIFA accountable for failing to build a market for women’s sports. “FIFA has been systematically discriminating against women for a long time,” Foudy said. “FIFA has never built the market up for women. That’s why the women aren’t making any money.”
Lilly and Foudy have watched women’s soccer explode tremendously since they started playing. When Foudy and Lilly joined the national team in the 1980s, there was no women’s World Cup and no women’s soccer in the Olympics. “The constant refrain was, ‘Oh, no one cares about women’s sports, no one cares about women’s soccer,’” Foudy said. “All these experts and coaches of the game kept telling us it’s not going to happen.”
And when the women started winning on an international stage, it took another eight years to make it big, in their eyes. “When we won the World Cup in ’91, we thought it was going to change the world. To this day, no one knows we won ’91,” Foudy said. Foudy recalled coming home, expecting a parade, and finding two people waiting at the airport—the bus driver, and the logistics guy who got the bus driver there.
Winning Olympic Gold in 1996 was “a big springboard into what happened with women’s soccer in the United States,” Lilly said. When the U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1999, FIFA wanted to play it safe and hold the Cup in a five or ten-thousand-seat stadium to make sure the seats would be filled. Instead, the women convinced the U.S. Soccer Association to bet on them. To fill the seats, U.S. Soccer spent three years campaigning in the grassroots communities with the soccer clubs, building momentum and excitement for the World Cup.
“We were driving to our first [World Cup game in 1999] and there’s a traffic jam. We realized that we were the cause of the traffic jam,” Foudy said. The ’99 World Cup was held in the Rose Bowl and became the most-attended women’s sporting event in history, drawing a crowd of over 90,000 fans.
Foudy said that the same logic that applied 20 years ago can be used in the wage discrimination debate facing the women’s national team today. The organization at the top has to market the women’s team and grow a fan base, and the women on the national team should push to make that happen, she said.
“Every time people would come to see us play, they’d come again. That was happening the whole summer leading up to ’99,” Lilly said. “If people could just see us play once,” she said.
“We still have to rattle that cage and say, ‘This isn’t enough. You should be doing more,’” Foudy said.