Legal technicalities are robbing women’s soccer players of their dues on both sides of the pond this week. The pitch invader who ran onto the field last week in the middle of a Champions League match (and quickly went viral for getting decked by Chelsea’s Sam Kerr) will not receive a fine for his misconduct. Why? It was a women’s match. And UK law, as it stands now, does not include women’s games in “designated matches.” Disruptors of “designated matches” incur a thousand-euro fine (about $1125 in U.S. dollars) but last week’s pitch invader can’t legally be charged or arrested.
A major concern here is player safety, of course, as well as the flippancy with which this young man sauntered around the football pitch. And the law with the loophole in question here isn’t from some outdated amendment — it was made in 2004, three years after the UK women’s Champion League was founded.
Closer to home, the U.S. Women’s National Team is closing out their equal pay appeal, having filed their final brief in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday. Their original wage discrimination lawsuit against U.S. soccer was dismissed in 2020 on the grounds that they made more than their male counterparts — which they only did because they advanced much further than the U.S. men in back-to-back World Cups (the men’s team didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup). In nearly every other scenario, bar the one that happened, including the men’s team qualifying and not winning a single game, the men’s per-game pay would have been higher than the women’s.
Even with the levels of celebrity and success that the USWNT has reached, the fact that there are still legal and financial barriers for them in the sport gives rise to trolls who insist that women’s sports must be inferior to men’s in all ways — trolls like the one who ran onto the field at the Chelsea match and strolled around without a care in the world. And for the “bUt ThE pRoFiTs” folks — the U.S. Women’s team claims in their lawsuit that “in spite of generating over $20 million in revenue for the financial year ending in 2016 and turning the federation’s projected loss into a $17.7 million profit, they were paid only a quarter of the wages earned by the men’s team.” No, U.S. Soccer isn’t responsible for the large gap in FIFA earnings, but game revenue from men’s and women’s U.S. Soccer matches are about even, with the women bringing in slightly more — and the men still get paid more per game under their U.S. Soccer agreement.
The most popular sport in the world is essentially telling half of the world’s population that their contributions to soccer don’t mean as much. No matter that there was such lax security at the Chelsea match that a player had to take matters into her own hands. No matter that the USWNT has been far more successful in representing their country on an international level than the USMNT. There is a distinct lack of legal rights, financial acknowledgment, and even basic security protections for this group of successful professional athletes — is there anywhere else in sports that we see this kind of multilayered disrespect?