The U.S. women’s soccer team refused to play in an international game Sunday because of unsafe field conditions — turning a battered, rock-filled artificial turf field into a symbol of a gulf between the treatment of men and women at the highest levels of soccer.
“Our federation continues to put us into subpar and unsafe playing conditions compared to the men, and we decided it was time to stand against that,” Hope Solo, the team’s goalkeeper, told BuzzFeed News of the decision to cancel the game, a match against Trinidad and Tobago that was part of the team's victory tour following their World Cup win. “This is bigger than one game for us. We decided to take a stand that this cannot go on.”
The field intended for Sunday’s game, Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, was made from artificial turf — a surface that players consider inferior, and that men's international teams almost never play on. In the days leading up to Sunday's match, players complained that the turf itself was in dangerously poor condition. The surface in front of the goal was run through with a long, gaping seam that could be lifted from the ground. Small, sharp rocks were mixed into the rubber pellets of the field, Solo said, and hard, painted lines every 10 yards — remnants of the football field — created a tripping hazard.
"At the end of the day, we expect to be treated equally as our male counterparts," the team wrote in a post on the website The Players' Tribune. "We hope that, in the future, our fields and our venues will be chosen and inspected at the standard of an international match — whether it’s men or women playing on the field."
The U.S. Soccer Federation, the team wrote, had not inspected the field in the months before the match — a protocol that is in place for the men's team, according to Julie Foudy, a former soccer player and writer for ESPN. U.S. Soccer did not return multiple calls from BuzzFeed News seeking comment.
Alex Morgan, the team’s most visible player, told Fox Soccer that the conditions in Hawaii were “horrible."
“I think the team needs to be a little more vocal about whether this is good for our bodies and whether we should be playing on it if the men wouldn't be playing on it,” Morgan said.
Days before, one of the team's star players, Megan Rapinoe, was seriously injured on a grass training field in Hawaii that players said was itself in poor shape, with pieces of plastic and sewer plates on the sidelines.
The team, Solo told BuzzFeed News, saw the conditions of the field as the culmination of frustrations with the American soccer federation. Fresh off of winning a World Cup that was itself played on artificial turf, the team was sent to play virtually their entire victory tour, eight of nine games, on artificial fields.
The men’s team, by contrast, did not play a U.S. soccer game on turf all year; when they toured to a turf stadium, a layer of sod and grass was laid above the artificial surface.
“I think our fans can read between the lines and see it's not about one game, it’s a matter of equity in all conditions,” Solo said. “That’s the salary, the standards of our training facilities, the marketing, what’s put into selling tickets. The amount of money that goes into the men’s team compared to the amount of money spent on the women’s team is very unbalanced.”
When the women's team won the World Cup this July, it took home a prize of $2 million — less than a quarter of the $9 million that the U.S. men's team received for losing in the tournament's first knockout round. The men's World Cup winners, Germany, received $35 million.