Anger over a narrow field used for a National Women’s Soccer League match last weekend is drawing attention to larger issues as players fight for respect.
U.S. national team and NWSL stars Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe were among those using social media to declare the field unacceptable. More broadly, Solo, the U.S. national team and Seattle Reign goalkeeper who has been vocal about gender equity in her sport, took to her website to decry conditions for players in the NWSL, now in its fourth season and widely considered one of the world’s strongest women’s leagues.
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Solo posted photos of fields with crooked lines, sad locker rooms and cleats that she said had melted after practice on an unwatered artificial turf field on a sweltering summer day.
“The `We know things aren’t up to par, but we’re going ahead with them anyway,’ attitude, quite honestly, is a fairly accurate reflection of how the NWSL has functioned during the four years of its existence,” Solo wrote. “It’s far past time that the women in our league start being treated like professional athletes – otherwise, we might as well just admit that the NWSL is just a semi-pro league, and stop pretending like it’s the best women’s league in the world.”
The NWSL did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment on Solo’s blog.
Saturday’s match between the Western New York Flash and Reign was played at Frontier Field in Rochester, New York, a minor-league baseball stadium. The Flash had to move the match because of a concert at their regular field.
The field measured 100 yards by 58 yards, which is within FIFA minimum standards. But NWSL standards call for a width of 70 yards.
Images of the soccer field – angled in the outfield – quickly spread over social media, attracting the attention of U.S. national team players who had earlier in the day defeated South Africa in an exhibition to prepare for the Rio Olympics. National team players are allocated across the NWSL, but weren’t with their club teams this weekend because of the match.
Lloyd, who plays for the Houston Dash, called the field “shocking and embarrassing” on Twitter. Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride) and Rapinoe (Reign) also weighed in, calling it unacceptable.
Christine Sinclair, who plays for the Canadian national team and the NWSL’s Portland Thorns, posted: “How is this ok? Not good enough for professional soccer. 6v6 field?”
NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush said in a statement following the match that the league had signed off on the move, but admitted it was the wrong decision in retrospect.
“As a professional league, we need to ensure that the integrity of the game is always respected both on and off the field,” Plush said. “We did not do that tonight and we apologize to the NWSL players, coaches and fans.”
No other women’s professional league in the United States has lasted as long as the NWSL. It gets support from the U.S. and Canadian soccer federations, which pay the salaries of the national team players. But the league continues to experience growing pains – including ongoing efforts to attract big-name sponsors.
The field issue comes at a time when female players have been rallying for better treatment.
Before the Women’s World Cup last summer in Canada, former U.S. forward Abby Wambach led a group of player in protesting the artificial turf playing surface for the event. Players consider artificial turf inferior to natural grass.
The group filed a complaint in Canadian court, arguing that staging the event on the surface amounted to discrimination because the men play the World Cup on grass, but it was ultimately dropped before the tournament so that players could continue preparations.
Earlier this year, national team players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming wage discrimination. The women, who are currently in contract negotiations with U.S. Soccer, maintain that the men’s national team players are paid far more in some cases.
Morgan also called attention to shoddy accommodations in one NWSL city last season, complaining that bed bugs were found in the team hotel. Solo’s blog expanded on where she feels the league has fallen short, including low salaries for players who aren’t stars or on national teams.