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U.S. Soccer Has Nothing To Say About Canadian Women’s Protest

Canada team group as the players wear purple t shirts with enough is enough written on them during the 2023 SheBelieves Cup match between Canada and Brazil at GEODIS Park on February 19, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee

The SheBelieves Cup, a four-team invitational soccer tournament hosted by U.S. Soccer, aims to "inspire and empower women and girls in sport and beyond."

Last week, Canada's soccer federation threatened to sue the Canadian women's national team players if they boycotted the SheBelieves Cup to protest poor pay, budget cuts, and unfair treatment by Canada Soccer. The Canadian team, who are so far 1-1 in the tournament after losing to the U.S. and then beating Brazil, are playing under protest, wearing purple shirts over their warmups that read "Enough is Enough."

“Purple has historically been associated with efforts to achieve gender equality,” Canada’s players union said in a statement before kickoff. “Considering the current circumstances, our players will continue to wear purple until our association has standards in place that ensure equal treatment and opportunity.”

The team has received support from the Canadian men's national soccer team and former Canadian players, as well as their tournament opponents and teams all over the world. Before Canada's game against the U.S., for example, players from both teams gathered at the center circle for a show of support. Japan donned armbands in support of the Canadian players, as did England, which is not playing in the SheBelieves Cup. Brazilian stars Marta and Debinha also expressed support for the Canadian team and criticized Canada Soccer. Even team sponsors are paying attention to what happens next.

One group that has been noticeably silent about this high-profile issue of gender inequality is the organization hosting the tournament, U.S. Soccer, whose website says this:

Through dedication, teamwork, perseverance and success, the U.S. Women's National team inspires new generations of young girls and women to be better and strive for better. They inspire them to believe. 

In a culture where young girls are often influenced by outdated gender norms, it is the mission of SheBelieves to empower girls to reach their dreams. You and your organization can join this mission by spreading messages of positivity and showcasing your athletes and their stories as examples of hope and success.

The empowerment of young women and girls is not an overnight objective but a permanent movement that can impact millions, because when girls and women succeed, we all succeed.

What's one great way to empower women, thereby allowing everyone to succeed? Paying them fairly! In fact, the USWNT's decades long fight for fair pay and treatment from U.S. Soccer inspired players around the world to expect better for themselves. The USWNT had such dedication, teamwork, and perseverance in this fight that they even filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in 2019. Last year, their hard work paid off when the players reached a groundbreaking CBA that placed both the men's and women's national teams under the same compensation structure. The Canadian team's efforts seem like precisely the kind of empowerment U.S. Soccer should be celebrating.

Defector asked Neil Buethe, Chief Communications Officer for U.S. Soccer, and Aaron Heifetz, Director of Communications, U.S. Women's National Team, how U.S. Soccer, as the SheBelieves Cup organizers, have supported the Canadian players who are playing under protest. What is U.S. Soccer doing, given its commitment to inspiring young girls and women to strive for better, to advance the cause of pay equity and fairness for the Canada national women's soccer team? Neither Buethe or Heifetz responded.

For U.S. Soccer and other federations and league offices, women's empowerment is all well and good when it's being used to sell tickets and merch and conjure feel-good images of young girls cheering from the stands. But when that empowerment bumps up against their own power and interests, their real priorities become easier to see.

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