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Being a women’s soccer fan is exhausting, and it’s worth it

Surprise: FIFA continues to make bad decisions for women’s football.

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Russia v United States Photo by Mike Stone/Getty Images

In so many ways, women’s soccer is on the rise. The 2015 Women’s World Cup final drew a record number of viewers and sparked a generation’s fight for equality. Pockets of progress have seeded hope in the last four years since that historic event.

Atletico Madrid fans set a world record for the highest attendance at a women’s soccer club match this year, when more than 60,000 showed up for a match against Barcelona. The Portland Thorns continue to average more than 16,000 fans per game, while NWSL newcomers Utah Royals are making a bid to dethrone them.

In so many ways, it felt like this momentum was going to be carried into the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, a country with a real chance to claim the trophy this year — following their men’s victory just one year prior.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair is on the verge of breaking Abby Wambach’s all-time goal-scoring record. She needs just four goals to take the honor for herself. New powerhouses are emerging, like Netherlands, who continue to inspire record crowds after an unpredictable UEFA Euro championship win in 2017.

There are plenty of positives to remember, certainly. Yet in so many ways, the powers that be continue to let women’s soccer fans down.

With the World Cup opening match just 18 days away, instead of feeling unbridled joy, fans are scratching their heads at FIFA’s many daft choices. Fans received notification this morning that their e-tickets for the World Cup were ready to download. Imagine the instant shift from excitement to collective horror when thousands of fans realized the packages they purchased as far back as October gave them tickets in different sections or rows, or in seats not immediately next to each other.

Imagine spending hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars to go on your dream trip to watch the best athletes in the world perform on the grandest stage. Imagine planning to share the love of the game with your son and daughter, who adore Sam Kerr or Megan Rapinoe. And imagine finding out you won’t be seated next to the person you’ve dreamed of sharing these memories with for the last year as you scrapped pennies together and maxed out your credit card — telling yourself the trip was priceless.

FIFA’s response to this ticketing snafu was not one of sympathy. The organization told all the unhappy ticket holders that the fine print specified this from the beginning (although nobody can seem to produce that evidence). Ticket allotments were final. Families with children under 18 could attempt to get seats together, but there were no guarantees. Bon chance!

Let me tell you: it is exhausting being a women’s soccer fan. Days like this just push that sentiment up to 1000.

The sometimes illegal streams you have to locate just to watch a match outside the U.S. The lack of TV options for some of the most important World Cup qualifiers. The horrible streams that cut out every few minutes. The poor commentary and officiating. The list goes on and on.

The France ticketing disaster comes of the heels of FIFA, CONMEBOL and Concacaf scheduling the World Cup final, Copa America final and Gold Cup final on the same day. While the Gold Cup and Copa America are important international events, neither are as big or important as the World Cup — a once-every-four-years global event.

The women deserve to have their own stage, not to share it with two other FIFA-sanctioned events. They proved they could handle the primetime TV slots during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which was the most-watched soccer event in U.S. history.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just FIFA that is letting fans down.

Just like Game of Thrones, there are many ever-changing enemies in this story.

Nike and U.S. Soccer have made it difficult to even sport a new U.S. jersey in time for the World Cup, with customized jerseys and men’s sizes on backorder until the start of June — too late for a large group of fans hoping to catch the opening matches in France. With the jersey designs unveiled in March, it is unclear why there was such a delay in getting supply into the hands of eager customers.

Even among positive signs of progress, there is reason for skepticism.

On Equal Pay Day in April, the maker of LUNA Bar brand nutrition bars pledged to pay $31,250 to each player who made the U.S. roster for the Women’s World Cup, an amount the company says closes the gap between bonuses for the men’s and women’s national teams. While this was a positive gesture from LUNA Bar, and should be celebrated, it reinforces the ongoing fight of the USWNT to be equally rewarded for the results they bring in.

Not to mention, U.S. Soccer looks like a saint alongside other federations, who often fail to pay their women’s international players at all — even when they bring home trophies. Women players in Colombia and Afghanistan are not only asking to be paid, they are fighting against abuse and harassment that’s taken place.

You know when you have a bruise on your leg and you keep hitting it on different things, making it unable to heal and a little more painful each time? It’s annoying as heck. That’s what being a women’s soccer fan is like. Just when the bruise has turned from dark purple to puke green, a sign it is finally on its way to healing, you hit the corner of the door frame and start the cycle all over again.

It’s ugly and painful.

Still, despite the endless torture, fans around the world tune into horrible streams that cut out incessantly. They can’t choose to “cut the cord,” because their matches weren’t on TV in the first place. They scour the internet for jerseys to purchase of their favorite players, or are forced to make their own from scratch. They put up with federations that don’t seem to prioritize their women, no matter how much noise they make.

They do all this, because at the end of the day, they know it’s worth it.

It’s worth all that effort knowing I’ll get to see Kim Little Cruyff turn through three defenders at the World Cup this year. And celebrate eight Reign FC players representing Australia, England, Japan, Spain and the United States on a global stage — while their teammates plug along back in Tacoma, racking up points and cheering them on from afar.

It’s worth it knowing that my voice, when paired with the collective voice of millions, can make a difference.

Women go to incredible lengths just to play the sport they love. Their fans reciprocate, doing everything they can to keep these athletes’ dreams alive for a new generation of stars. Imagine what both could do if those in power gave them the respect they deserve.

Earlier this year, Adidas announced that it will pay its sponsored women athletes from the World Cup’s winning team the same bonuses it awards male World Cup champions. Meanwhile, Brazil’s national TV network, Globo, announced that it will broadcast the Women’s World Cup for the first time.

Pockets of progress.

That’s probably all we can hope for in the near future. But we’ll keep pushing for change, knowing that after all the struggles, women’s soccer will rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

I hope you’ll stick with us on this messy journey. I promise it’s worth it.

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