The second panel of speakers at the Beyond Soccer Series in San Francisco featured two female soccer icons: Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe of the US Women’s National Team, and Hel Say of Soccer Without Borders Oakland. The panel explored their work outside the pitch as role models and agents of change for issues such as equal pay, LGBTQ rights, and refugee crises.
Recently the USWNT has gained traction in the media regarding equal pay. It’s a fact that the men’s side has been receiving significantly higher wages than the women, despite having the same employer, playing in equivalent competitions, and pretty much always being more successful. As one of the leading voices for women’s rights and gender equality, Hope Solo has spearheaded the debate. “Talks about taking a stand had been going on for a long time, but recently they had to just say ‘enough is enough’” she said. Perhaps the issue of playing on turf for the women’s world cup was a catalyst for the movement toward equality between national teams, but Solo thinks it can serve as an example for other industries as well. She said that the wage discrimination claim filed by the women’s team against the US Soccer Federation may take a long time in the legal process. She and her teammates are committed to playing in the Olympicsthis summer, but if things don’t change by the end of 2016, Solo asserted “ we’re prepared to go on strike.” She also cited some important statistics about why equal pay should be given, which could serve as important details in the court process. Megan Rapinoe, also addressing her work for the LGBT community, says “forget the studies and data, when does it just become the right thing to do?” Rapinoe hits on an important point that at the end of the day these are social movements that requires a grassroots belief in equality for all. Perhaps a lawsuit by high profile celebrity athletes could do the job of drawing attention to the cause, and inspiring those who already believe to do more consequential work toward equality.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JUNE 23: Senda founder & CEO, Santiago Halty, with USWNT goalkeeper Hope Solo, and a Senda mini ball.
On the topic of equality, Rapinoe agreed that fame can help garner support for the cause. “If you look at Hillary Clinton, she embodies our mission and what we’re trying to do here,” said Rapinoe. Clinton, like the USWNT, has had to work much harder in many aspects of her career to reach where she is today. The success and achievement of Clinton and the women’s national team have often been overshadowed by their male counterparts, but now they each have a chance to make real, enduring social change regarding gender.
The panel spoke about being role models to girls around the world. “ The meaning of being a role model, to me, is to empower others to be themselves” said Hope Solo. Soccer Without Borders’ Ben Gucciardi served as one such role model to panelist Hel Say. Say grew up in a refugee camp on the Burma/Thailand border, and she was one of very few girls who played soccer. Many times, she said, boys didn’t allow the girls to play. When Hel Say arrived in the US as a 15-year old refugee, Ben gave her the chance to play soccer at no cost. “Thank God, I have a man who cares,” said Say. Ben gave her the opportunity to play the sport she loved without the stigma she had gotten growing up. Her involvement in sport was a big factor in helping her get an education and learning to speak English. “It helped me stay in school,” she said, “because soccer is always right after [school].” Say didn’t want to miss soccer training, so as a consequence she didn’t cut class or miss school. Her confidence certainly grew as a result of her education and involvement in soccer. She sat on stage with two of the most popular female athletes in the US, and did a fantastic job answering questions and telling stories in her non-native language, English. Hel Say is now a coach for SWB Oakland, and the roles have been reversed. The girls of SWB now see her as a role model, saying they want to be like her when they grow up.
One of the key pieces to Hel Say’s story is her passion for soccer, and the fun that she had with SWB. She humbly asked the other two stars how they got where they are today, and Rapinoe offered her advice. “Kids need to enjoy what they’re doing. 99% of kids won’t play pro, so enjoy the moment now, it’s about growing as a person, not just winning,” said Rapinoe. Joy is one of pillars behind Senda’s goal of changing the world through soccer. The idea of playing for joy over competition was shared by Hope Solo when she talked about her favorite soccer game she ever played in. She told the story about the game against Japan, which the USA lost in penalty kicks in the Women’s World Cup Final. Japan had just suffered a terrible tragedy when a tsunami hit the Japanese coast not long before the game. Solo acknowledged that it hurt to lose the game, but the loss was made less painful by the incredible story of the Japanese playing for their nation and becoming a symbol of resiliency.
Perhaps the overarching theme of this second panel discussion is that sport has the power to transcend social and political issues, and serve as a unifying medium in life. The all-inclusive nature of sport is what has allowed all these women to succeed, and one of their objectives is to grow this idea of inclusivity and equality so that more people can experience what soccer has given to their lives.
Here at Senda, we want to keep this conversation going. What is the power of sport? How has soccer changed your life? Feel free to tag Senda on social media and share your thoughts using #morethanagame #morethanaball #playjoyfully and #futbolunitesus.