US rout of Thailand highlights inequity in World Cup field

The U.S. national team’s 13-0 rout of Thailand did more than expose vast differences between two teams. It highlighted the overall inequality in the Women’s World Cup field — and, in part, the failure of soccer’s governing body to adequately grow the women’s game.

FIFA has long been criticized for neglecting the women’s game, and some member federations have not used FIFA funds for their women’s programs, preferring instead to funnel money to developing young male players.

Here’s the result: Players for the defending champion U.S. team enjoy things like nutritionists and massage therapists, access to top-level training facilities and play an array of exhibition games against world-class competition. Thailand struggles for the basics, even a large enough player pool. It plays a limited number of friendlies against quality opponents and players need jobs outside of soccer to make ends meet.

“There are some teams here that, since the last World Cup, have only played a handful of games, or only the qualifiers,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “It’s embarrassing for the federations and for FIFA as well.”

FIFA has begun to address the issue with its Global Women’s Football Strategy, which seeks to double participation in the sport. One goal is to put more women in positions of power both within FIFA and it member federations. It also requires federations to create plans to develop the women’s game.

The strategy doesn’t require countries to use a dedicated percentage of their FIFA funding on women. So though well-supported teams like the U.S., France and England legitimately can say they’re contending for a title in France, others without those nations’ resources make do with moral victories.

Before Tuesday’s game with the U.S., Thailand head coach Nuengrutai Srathongvian suggested the team’s real victory at the World Cup could be overall improvement in the women’s program back home because of the attention.

“We are here among the 24 teams in the tournament, this is our success. And to play one of the best teams in the world, like the U.S., this is also our success,” Srathongvian said.

A wealthy benefactor, Nualphan Lamsam, serves as general manager of the Thai team and helps players by giving them jobs at her insurance company.

In much the same way, World Cup newcomer Jamaica has depended on the support of Bob Marley’s daughter, Cedella Marley, who has helped fund and promote the team through her late father’s foundation.

The Reggae Girlz were defunded by the Jamaican federation after they failed to qualify for the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics. Marley made it her personal cause to revive the team in 2014.

“This is not just about the World Cup, and I want to make sure people understand that. This is bigger than the World Cup,” said Jamaica coach Hue Menzies, whose team lost to Brazil 3-0 in its opener and plays Italy on Friday. “We want to sustain our program. That’s something we’ve talked about with our federation and our sponsors. This is a project that we took up to change the mind-set about females playing football.”

The disparity between teams made Argentina’s 0-0 draw with Japan in their group-stage opener all the more encouraging. It resulted in the team’s first-ever World Cup point. But it was bigger than that for a team that fights for attention and resources in a soccer-crazed country where the men’s team has won two World Cups: Two years ago, the players went on strike because stipends went unpaid.

“We have started getting support now from the Argentinean football federation for the team. It’s true that results help a lot, and this will definitely help and reinforce all the work,” head coach Carlos Borrello said. “It will help us to continue on the great path. We have to also strengthen the grassroots of our game.”

Chile, which — like Jamaica — is making its first World Cup appearance, essentially fell out of the world rankings altogether in 2016 because the team didn’t play any meaningful games. After a 2-0 loss to Sweden in its World Cup opener, Chile plays the U.S. in Paris on Sunday.

Thursday’s games: In a Group C match in Montpellier, Australia (1-1-0) rallied from down two goals to beat Brazil 3-2 in a match decided by an own goal. An error by Monica of Brazil snapped the 2-2 tie in the 66th minute. For Brazil (1-1-0), Marta scored her record 16th career tournament goal, and became the first player to score in five different World Cups. Italy can take the outright lead in the group with at least a point against Jamaica on Friday. … In Paris, China got back on track with a 1-0 win over South Africa. China evened itself with Spain for second place in Group B with three points behind Germany. South Africa has two losses.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/US-rout-of-Thailand-highlights-inequity-in-World-13993181.php.

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