The Struggle of CONCACAF Women’s Soccer

Another Olympics. Same old, same old.

USA and Canada are the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) representatives headed to Rio for women’s Olympic soccer.

Again.

The two teams advanced as a result of their semi-final victories in Women’s Olympic qualifying matches in Houston on Friday. USA defeated Trinidad & Tobago, 5-0. Canada defeated Costa Rica, 3-1. The two teams square off on Sunday to determine seeding for Rio.

It was an all too familiar scene in women’s CONCACAF soccer. Canada has qualified for the last three Olympic games. They are the reigning bronze medal winner from the 2012 games. The U.S. has qualified for every Olympics since women’s soccer began playing in the Games since 1996. Mexico is the only other CONCACAF team to qualify having done so in 2004.

Costa Rica, with the 2015 NCAA National Player of the Year Raquel Rodriguez, is improving and on the rise. Mexico, under the same manager since 1998 and swirling in dysfunction, is seemingly going backwards. Trinidad & Tobago, although a semi-finalist in Houston, is nowhere near competitive to the top teams in the region. Guyana, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama and the rest of CONCACAF? Not a chance.

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The U.S. is currently ranked #1 in the world according to the most recent FIFA rankings (12/18/15). Canada is #11. The next nearest CONCACAF country is Mexico which sits at #26. Costa Rica comes in at #34. The U.S.’s semi-final opponent, Trinidad & Tobago, made it to the top 50…at #48. 

That is the state of women’s soccer in CONCACAF. The United States, Canada and then everyone else. They are the two countries who have made an investment in women’s soccer. Even then, the U.S. women’s team was paid significantly less for their 2015 World Cup victory ($2 million) compared to 2014 men’s WC winners, Germany ($35 million) The reason is simple, according to FIFA. The men get paid more because they make more money for FIFA.

All well and good until you realize that more countries around the world invest in their men’s teams financially, promotionally and organizationally than they do women’s teams. For some countries, there isn’t enough money to go around.

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In November 2015, Global Finance Magazine released their list of the world’s richest countries. The numbers were determined based on the GDP (gross domestic product) per capita. In other words, how much the average resident of a country is worth. It also involves something called PPP (purchasing power parity).

Taking the list at face value, here is where the eight CONCACAF teams in women’s Olympic qualifying ranked:

  • United States #9
  • Canada #20
  • Trinidad & Tobago #35
  • Mexico #67
  • Costa Rica #78
  • Guatemala #117
  • Guyana #120
  • Puerto Rico (not registered; on bring of default as of June 2015)

What’s the point of economics in this soccer discussion? Without financing and proper infrastructure, the rest of CONCACAF women’s soccer will continue to lag behind the U.S. and Canada. The only way these teams can make strides is if their players play collegiately in the U.S. 

Check the rosters on teams like a Costa Rica or a Mexico and you will see players that played in the states during college. Some argue that the countries themselves should invest more in women’s soccer. That’s all well and good, but without proper financing…and a change in male attitudes…in these countries, women’s sports will get left behind.  

 “I could go on and on in listing the countries that have made little to no strides forward since 40 million Americans saw at least some of the Women’s World Cup final in 1999,” said soccer legend Julie Foudy in July 2015. “And that is the sad truth: 16 years later the women’s game has barely grown outside of a few countries.”

Although Foudy puts most of the blame on FIFA in her article, the key point remains this: the game hasn’t grown for women around the world. Cultural and gender stereotypes in many countries is a legitimate barrier. That, in turn, dictates how much a country will support (spend money on) women playing sports, let alone soccer. 

FIFA can’t change gender and cultural mindsets because those traits exist within FIFA itself. That said, FIFA is holding its 2nd Annual Women’s Football and Leadership Conference on March 7 in Amsterdam. The goal is to promote equality throughout the sport through reform.   

A good start, but how will those reforms translate to cultural change within an individual country?

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Patriotism moves the needle.

When the U.S. defeated Japan in this past summer’s World Cup, the broadcast broke viewership records here in America. While some attributed that to growth and interest in the women’s game, I saw it more patriotism than game-fandom.

American fans love to cheer American athletes and teams. Fans burst with American pride when an American achieves at the highest levels. Every two (previously every four), we celebrate victories in less popular sports like gymnastics or figure skating. We revel in the highs of skiing or track.

Every time the Olympics come around, Americans tune in. Although rating numbers may fluctuate depending on the time zone of the Games, they still are must-see tv for many Americans. All because of patriotism.

Patriotism moves the needle. But, patriotism falls to the wayside when it comes to women’s sports leagues in America. Some argue that until women are in broadcast executive positions, television coverage of women’s sports will be a non-priority. There is some truth to that, but that isn’t the sole reason for the failure of multiple soccer leagues here in the U.S.

NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said this in July 2015, “We’re trying to run it like any other business. Revenues have to grow. Expenses will grow over time, but they’re going to grow in a prudent and sustainable way.”

Prudent decision-making by the league, more pro-women’s sports broadcast executives will help grow the game here in America. It won’t do much to grow the game within countries like Qatar or Turkey where machismo culture reigns. Even in Mexico, the support for the women’s team is more talk than action.

It is 2016. Rio is around the corner. Traditional women’s soccer powers will once again grace the fields of Brazil. The rest of the world can only watch. “For many of the world’s women, playing soccer is a distant dream,” said the Fuller Project’s Xanthe Ackerman and Christina Asquith.

The U.S. and Canada will have Rio dreams of gold, silver and bronze. The rest of CONCACAF teams can only dream. 

Another Olympics. Same old, same old dreams.

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CadChica Sports

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