Record editorial: Like U.S. women’s soccer team, winter sports athletes are fighting for equality
In the moments after the U.S. women’s national soccer team secured its second consecutive World Cup championship Sunday with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands, fans in the stadium made their demand quite clear with a simple but powerful chant: “Equal pay! Equal pay!”
It was in reference to the American players’ ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation centered on the fact the women’s team earns substantially less money than the men’s team despite being far superior on the field.
The message was directed at the Chicago headquarters of U.S. soccer’s governing body. But given that female winter sports athletes have themselves been waging a decades-long battle for gender equality, it resonated in Park City.
The U.S. women’s soccer team deserves kudos for fighting for equal treatment and sparking a discussion on the biggest possible stage about the issue, which affects female athletes in nearly every sport. It’s certainly a relevant topic in the winter sports world, where gender imbalance remains problematic even as outspoken athletes like Lindsey Vonn and Park City native Sarah Hendrickson have helped spur progress.
Take the 2018 Winter Olympics for example. While women’s events made up half of the competitions, female athletes represented just 43 percent of all competitors. That’s a 6 percent increase over the 2002 Games, which is significant, but it’s still not particularly close to a 50/50 split. And in many events, such as downhill skiing, speed skating and ski jumping, women aren’t allowed to compete on some of the same courses or tracks as their male counterparts. The rationale stems from the laughably outdated notion that women’s bodies are too fragile.
Additionally, some winter sports still underpay women. International Ski Federation rules, for instance, have dictated female ski jumpers make less than a third of what men do for winning World Cup competitions. Sports like downhill skiing and freestyle skiing/snowboarding have been relatively forward-thinking and award prize money equally, but Vonn and others argue a pay gap still exists when factoring in other sources of income like endorsement deals.
On one hand, the strides toward gender equality represented in trends like the growing number of female participants in the Winter Olympics have been encouraging. On the other, it’s frustrating that it’s 2019 and women in sports, by and large, are still up against barriers that male athletes have never encountered.
Hopefully the U.S. women’s soccer team and its courageous call for fair treatment will help take a sledgehammer to that glass ceiling. When it shatters, Parkites, and the female athletes they root for, will be among those cheering loudest.
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