Many look at the U.S. as the leader in women’s sports participation and competition. When it comes to opportunities to play that may indeed be true. However, behind all the Olympic medals and championship performances of U.S. women’s national teams representing many sports hides a dirty little secret. Girls and women in the U.S. play, but the coaching, directing and governance remains almost exclusively the bastion of men.
The news that USA Hockey and the women on the national team reached an agreement in time for the World Hockey Championship was met with celebration. As was the news last week that, more than one year after an EEOC filing by the players, the US Women’s National Soccer Team finally reached a contract agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation. These are just the latest in a series of events that and serve as reminders that when it comes to remuneration and developmental support, U.S. women’s teams lag far behind their male counterparts. While the new contracts are cause for celebration would the contracts have been more equitable to begin with, and threats of strikes avoided, had the governing bodies of USA hockey and US Soccer been more representative of their constitutes? In other words, if women were involved in governance would the treatment of the teams have been more equitable from the outset.
The U.S. Women’s hockey team is ranked No. 1 and the Soccer team ranked No. 2 in the world. They are consistently ranked higher than their male counterparts who sit at No. 4 and No. 23 respectively. However, the money allocated for women’s pay, accommodations, travel and player development lags behind that of the men. The systemic lack of female representation in the governance from the youth level through the highest levels of national sport governance likely plays a significant role in this.
This underrepresentation is present from the top down to the youngest youth levels. Looking at soccer, at the youth level US Club Soccer has a nine-member Board of Directors. Not one of these positions is held by a woman. U.S. Youth Soccer does a bit better with one woman currently serving on its 12 member Board of Directors. As most youth players are on teams registered in one or both of these organizations, and close to half of the registered players are female, this seems a glaring omission and extreme lack of representation. U.S. Soccer has a 12-person board with three female members. Not a single woman sits on the U.S. Soccer nine-member Budget Committee. Given the success of the women’s national team and the number of girls playing across the country at all levels this lack of input and representation seems at odds with both the success and interest of women in the game.
While some sports do better than others at having boards that reflect their membership, the lack of women in decision making positions within national sports organizations in the U.S. is clearly not unique to soccer and hockey.
Laura Harvey – Head Coach; Seattle Reign FC
With board members often drawn from the elite professional playing and coaching ranks, to ensure there is a pool to draw from, it is important that women are represented in these roles as well. Unfortunately at the professional level the number of women filling coaching positions is only marginally better than what is seen at the board level. In the 10-team National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) only the Seattle Reign have a woman in the Head Coach position. The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) does better with six of its twelve teams led by a female head coach. In the four team National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) two teams have female head coaches. Yet when the gender of the players changes from female to male, the women disappear. In the MLS, NHL and NBA not a single team is led by a female head coach. It is here that the assumption that a woman could not be qualified or respected enough to lead men comes into play. With national governing bodies overseeing both male and female athletes it is perhaps this stereotype that begins to answer why so few governance positions are held by women.
There was a time when women playing sports was a novelty and deemed of little value. At that time women ran the show. Before “merging” with the NCAA in 1982 the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) governed women’s sports and more than 90% of the teams were coached by women. The administration of the AIAW was almost exclusively made up of women.
Today in the NCAA the number of women’s teams coached by women hovers around 40%. Only 20% of Athletic Director positions are held by women, most at DIII programs. As opportunities for females to play grew so too did their monetary value to those in charge and men began to dominate the coaching and administrative ranks of the previously separate sphere of women’s sports. The current 16 member NCAA Board of Governors includes one woman.