Women Playing in the World Cup Need to Join #HotStrikeSummer — NOW!

It’s easy to forget the labor and wage struggles happening this summer —  the Writers Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, hospitality workers —  when watching women kick and score on a foreign pitch; but it wasn’t easy for the women who arrived to play in the top tournament in their sports. 

Most the actions included in #HotStrikeSummer encompass all genders. Because women have made some headway in their fight for equality, work stoppages are rarely single gender any more. 

A women’s strike, something the world hasn’t witnessed in over a half century, might be overdue, especially since the men’s World Cup last year made more of an issue of women’s rights than this year’s women’s tournament. So far, the protests have been tepid; the Brazilian women’s team arrived in a plane decorated with statements of support for the same Iranian protesters who were the subject of the men’s World Cup protests. And many members of the United States team refrained from singing the national anthem at the tournament opener against Vietnam and the tie game with the Netherlands. It’s unclear what that silence was directed at. 

Fifty-three years ago this month (August) women went on strike. The typed flier soliciting participation asked if a woman answered yes to a number of questions and warned her: “IF YOU DO NOTHING YOU ARE SAYING YOU ARE TOTALLY SATISFIED WITH YOUR INFERIOR STATUS.”  

The women who did strike back in 1970 demanded equality and didn’t necessarily secure it but they ushered in the second wave of feminism. These players can strike for women universally but a work stoppage right now is a very unique opportunity to improve their own positions.  

The women who traveled to Australia and New Zealand didn’t get their easily and their struggles continue. The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) reportedly canceled the team’s bonuses after FIFA announced they’d be awarding at least $30,000 to every team member playing in the World Cup.

“At the last World Cup, the same thing happened and we were shortchanged, we won’t allow this to happen any longer,” the source said. “They dare not treat the [Nigerian men’s team] like this. Is it because we are women? We must put a stop to this this time around.”

It’s not just Nigeria. Players from Canada and England headed to the World Cup without coming to a resolution with their federations about pay. English players will be denied bonuses. 

The Jamaican team had possibly the worst situation heading into the Cup. Not only do they not get paid, their federation doesn’t cover their travel costs. They had to raise funds to go to the tournament through GoFundMe. 

Spain’s team has been treated pretty terribly as well. Earlier this year, fifteen team members sent an email to the federation stating that they were “ineligible” for team selection at that time. According to reporting from The Athletic, the reasons for this protest were the fact that the federation was cutting corners on travel — making them take buses when they should have taken airplanes and asking the players to travel to tournaments without sufficient time before the competition started — and some more disturbing allegations like being forced to keep their hotel room doors open and being subject to searches of their personal property. 

The time is now, when they’re all still at the top of their groups. As of July 31, 2023, England, Jamaica, Nigeria and Spain will all be advancing to elimination rounds as they’re all in second place in their respective groups. 

Canada is an important example of why strikes need to pop up now. Earlier this year at the SheBelieves Cup, instead of striking, Canadian players protested their federation’s treatment of them by wearing their jerseys inside out, hardly a stinging rebuke and certainly not enough to pry open bank accounts. They traveled to the tournament with no agreement in place. Now the current Olympic Champion is out of the tournament after a loss to Australia. 

The Canadian women lost not only their game, but their leverage. A team that is about to take the field in an elimination round in the sport’s premier contest has the most power they’ll ever have. 

Unlike professional athletes, where team stars’ salaries can prevent a type of solidarity, everyone at the World Cup will be paid the same for their participation. More than that, players aren’t striking against their employers, at least for those who play professionally. 

Because team owners’ abilities to control the narrative is better than the players’ when it comes to strikes by athletes, fans and audiences tend to side with management rather than labor; a strike takes them off the playing field and swipes part of athletes’ platform. 

Not so for the World Cup, which is attracting attention regardless of who’s in it.  Add in the support that will come from Hollywood and other striking groups, there’s no better time than now for these players to negotiate a better deal. When players can control the narrative, they can win these labor disputes. 

They can also prove that they can be just as stingy as the sport federations that don’t pay or compensate them fairly. They’d deny their home country a win — a world championship — if they aren’t compensated in ways that are both fair and adequate.

The goal of equal pay — or even not having to ride a bus for hours when a plane will do —  of the soccer strikers is much more tangible and manageable than women strikers’ requests last century. 

But they’re in the same position as their sisters of yore: if they do nothing, they’re saying they’re satisfied with being denied bonuses and having to pay their own way to represent their countries in these contests. 

They must make a statement now; the next opportunity to be in the world’s top tournament won’t happen until 2027 and these countries may not be in the top standings like they are today. Of course, the Nigerian, English Jamaican and Spanish federations may decide it’s fine to let their teams not play if they want to walk off the job in protest. But they’re much less likely to do that when their country is on the precipice of a win — or at least the next step to one.

To be clear, striking right now would take an exceptional amount of bravery; these women risk discipline for speaking out at all. FIFA includes prohibitions on protest in its Ethics code — they call it a Duty of Neutrality — and has fined players and teams in the past for political statements. But it’s not clear if refusing to play would constitute a political statement that required corrective action. 

But these exceptional women should outdo the male players who have little to protest for how they themselves are treated. It’s pretty clear that patently political statements were allowed from male players last year in their World Cup in Qatar. To protest the treatment of women in their country, the Iranian men’s team remained silent and wore black jackets over their white uniforms during the national anthem before they played England. Nothing happened to them. To punish women for striking would invite another controversy, a fight FIFA can’t really win.   

Players from countries that don’t compensate women in the same way they do male players need to strike while the summer’s still hot. 

About the author: Yawen Yuan is a rising senior at The Spence School, an all girls school in New York, and is concerned with all aspects of social justice.

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