A year ago the Japanese women’s soccer team won the World Cup, beating the United States in the final and giving a boost to the spirits of a nation that had been battered by an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear disaster. They became international stars lauded by sports and non-sports fans alike.
This week, Japan’s women’s soccer team – who have a strong chance for a gold medal at the Summer Games – were flown economy to London while the lower-ranked men’s team enjoyed business class.
The Japanese Football Association said the teams had left Tokyo together on the same Japan Airlines flight.
“I guess it should have been the other way around,” Homare Sawa, the leading player on the women’s team, told Japanese reporters this week. “Even just in terms of age, we are senior.”
What is wrong with this picture?
Japan’s male soccer team last won an Olympic medal – the bronze – in 1968, but have reportedly been flown business class by the national football association since the Atlanta Games in 1996. The women’s team was only upgraded by Japan’s soccer federation for its return trip after winning the World Cup in Germany last year. Would they have been relegated to cargo had they lost?
Australia’s women basketballers also reported they had different travel arrangements than the men’s squad for the journey to London. While the men’s team – known as Boomers, flew in business class, the Opals made the long-haul trip in economy.
The Opals have never protested publicly about this longstanding treatment of national teams and players would not comment on the record today, but they do not like it and say such inequality has been a long-standing source of contention.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The Opals have won silver medals at the last three Olympics, bronze in 1996, and are hell-bent on gold in London. The Boomers, by comparison, have never won a Olympics medal, although they have come close three times, finishing fourth in 1988 and 2000 and sixth in 1992.”
A Basketball Australia representative tried to suggest that travel arrangements were based on individuals’ heights but that doesn’t account for the fact that Opals rising star (and WNBA player) Liz Cambage who is 6’8″ is taller than some Boomers players.
Are the men’s medals at the Olympics valued more than the women’s?
While Title IX protects student-athletes in the U.S. from discriminatory practices (at least those that attend federally funded schools) the notion that male and female athletes should be treated equally obviously doesn’t resonate everywhere.
What can you do? For starters, call out the organizations that treat women as second class citizens. Don’t accept the status quo, especially when it pertains to human rights and stand up against blatant sexism.