Who wears short shorts?
Women’s soccer players wear short shorts — or they would, if Sepp Blatter designed their uniforms, in addition to the vast power he holds over both the men’s and women’s international sports.
Blatter was not accused of wrongdoing in the massive sting Wednesday morning in which several major FIFA executives were arrested in Zurich and accused of widespread corruption, so he won’t be brought down by this latest incident, at least not directly. But with the Women’s World Cup just days away from starting in Canada, the charges are a black eye for Blatter as he prepares to take a victory lap around the female arm of the sport, whose popularity he largely credits to himself.
Without question, the women’s game has grown considerably on an international scale during Blatter’s 17-year reign atop FIFA. The last Women’s World Cup final in 2011 between the U.S. and Japan drew a record 13.5 million viewers, and players such as Mia Hamm and Hope Solo have attracted major crossover pop-culture appeal in America. Yet Blatter has presided over the rise of women’s soccer with a mindset that is anything but progressive.
“Let the women play in more feminine clothes, like they do in volleyball,” Blatter said in 2004. “They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men, such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”
If proposing tighter kits were the worst way Blatter had outraged women’s players, it might be dismissed as the quaint stylings of a 79-year-old man from a different generation and a different culture. But there’s nothing quaint about the unfairness of having to play on artificial turf, as women’s teams will do next month in the World Cup, according to several outspoken players.
“It’s the biggest tournament these women play in, and they should be playing on a natural surface,” Hamm said in November, before U.S. forward Abby Wambach and a group of prominent women’s players dropped their suit against FIFA to have the games played on natural grass. “I know I preferred it when I played. These athletes deserve to play on the best surface, because it is a different game (on turf).”
Blatter, who considers himself the “godfather” of women’s soccer, basically made the women an offer they couldn’t refuse: Play on artificial turf or, you know, go play in another tournament that will be marketed and broadcast worldwide by the equivalent of a multibillion-dollar corporate conglomerate.
Under those conditions, it was no surprise the Wambach-led group relented.
Wanting to see a little more skin and asking players to compete on synthetic surfaces doesn’t rise to the level of $150 million in bribes and kickbacks, as the 14 officials were charged with Wednesday. And a FIFA spokesman made sure to remind people at a press conference that Blatter was not included among those targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
As much as Blatter cares about his international image, though — which, admittedly, probably isn’t much — this is not the story he wanted the media to be bugging him about ahead of the Women’s World Cup. This event was to be yet another opportunity for him to remind everyone of all the great work he’s done in promoting gender equality (or some form of it) on the pitch. Blatter considers himself the hero of the women’s game, but like a lot things in the Blatter-led FIFA, it’s not quite that simple.
Thumbnail photo via Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports Images