When football became more about looks and less of talent

Brandi Chastain - The Federal
US soccer player Brandi Chastain celebrating her penalty goal against China in 1999. Photo: Twitter

Women’s football World Cup concluded yesterday (July 7) with the US winning the tournament for the record fourth time. And yet, the euphoria lasted less than some minutes, when the crowd went from cheering for the team to chanting ‘equal pay’ for them.

Seeing the crowd at France’s Stade de Lyon, it can be deduced that the prospects have increased and mindsets have changed for the female players around the world. But have they? Have they really evolved or were all these mere words?

In 1990 when Brandi Chastain, a former US footballer celebrated her goal against China, her image set tongues wagging. The image now considered as ‘the most iconic photograph ever taken of a female athlete’ is still remembered for its boldness, sports bra and Chastain’s chiselled physique.

A simple act of celebration, where she removed her jersey and swirled it around in exhilaration became a talking point and still is considered a defining moment, a sort of indicator that the US women’s World Cup team had arrived.

According to reports, critics at that time said, it was unprofessional of her to remove her jersey and celebrate. Some even said it was a gimmick to earn a sports bra contract, reducing it to a striptease. Eventually, some years down the line, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, formally banned the removal of jerseys by players (both male and female).

This year, no jerseys were removed. No sports bras were unveiled. And yet, the images of players celebrating were more talked about than the goals and performances of the teams. Several articles popped up with headlines such as, ‘Photos from World Cup that will give you feelings’, ‘Megan Rapione and the picture that became a hilarious meme’ and so on.

Megan Rapione’s image of celebration of goals against France tops the list with more than 1,400 retweets and 12,000 likes.

In the image, a stiff-bodied Megan can be seen with her arms wide open, face oozing confidence with a persona of no-nonsense attitude. Having received the ‘Golden Boot’ and ‘Player of the Match’ awards, the persona in the image is justified. While we don’t mind people talking about her image, we wish her performance was more appreciated and looked at instead.

Alex Morgan and her tea-sipping celebration

Football- The Federal
Alex Morgan gesturing tea sipping after match against England. Photo: Twitter

While various theories are rife that her actions were a dig at England —the losing team in that particular match — she clarified that it was simply a gesture indicating celebratory sipping of tea referring to Game of Thrones actress Sophie Turner.

While debunking the theories and pointing at the obvious double-standards, the player also raised a very hard-hitting question, “Why is the women’s soccer team being criticised for their celebratory poses, whereas several male players have celebrated their win by holding their crotches?”

There are several other images online where female players have been reduced to their figures and emotional display or outbursts. For example, an image of Alexandra Popp was talked about for her dejected look and pose after losing in semi-finals.

Football - The Federal
Alexandra Popp taking in the loss.

While the ‘looks’ were talked about, the pay was conveniently ignored. The team that broke nearly seven records — most goals in a single women’s World Cup match, highest margin of victory in one soccer match, most consecutive World Cup tournament wins — is still far from being treated fairly.

Despite generating more revenue than the US male soccer team, the female team has been treated unfairly when it comes to their pay, reported CNBC. According to BuzzFeed, a few days before the World Cup, a group of Congressmen wrote to the president of US Soccer to know why the federation pays its women players so much less than the men.

The letter noted that a female player’s base salary was about $30,000 less than a male player’s and around 38% lesser, when bonuses are included.

This is the situation of the dominant team in the world of women’s soccer. The situation hasn’t changed much since Chastain’s time for female players. The fight back then was about being accepted and to be allowed basic freedoms, like expressing oneself. It still is the same, but weighs in other aspects too, especially to be paid fairly, and be judged on the basis of talent more than anything else.

ALSO READ: US rejoices after women’s football World Cup win

Although the issue caught fire on social media after the US team’s win, fair treatment for women players is going to be a long way from becoming a reality.