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A Reckoning for Women's Football

I’m sure many of us are experiencing a similar feeling today - a mixture of heartbreak and pride - at the news of so many French players choosing to step aside from International play because of mistreatment from their Federation.

Earlier today, Wendie Renard, one of Women’s Football’s all time greats with 142 International Caps, stepped aside from International Football at the age of 32. Her statement, released on her personal socials coupled with a simple line, “Thank you for your support and respect for my decision,” noted the reasons why.

Statement, translated from French to English:

I defended the blue white red jersey 142 times with passion, respect, commitment and professionalism. I love France more than anything, I'm not perfect, far from it, but I can no longer endorse the current system, far from the requirements required by the highest level. It's a sad but necessary day to preserve my sanity. It is with a heavy heart that I come by this message to inform you of my decision to take a step back with the French team. Unfortunately, I will not do this World Cup in such conditions. My face can hide the pain, but my heart hurts... and I don't want to hurt anymore. Thank you for your support and respect for my decision.

Soon after, teammates Kadidiatou Diani & Marie-Antoinette Katoto released statements that followed Renard’s lead, stating that they would not return until “necessary changes” are implemented.

France is not the only country experiencing a public battle between federation and players - Spain, Canada, and Peru have made headlines recently. We know the underbelly of women’s football, and we know that it’s far from pretty. We know that many players for federations not in the news are experiencing abuse in all forms on a daily basis. Yet, news like today’s always seems to break out hearts a little more.

Today marks an important day in women’s football. For years, players have been fighting with their federations for better pay, equal treatment and, let’s just call it what it is, for their rights. Fights have been just that, though: between players and federation, and for the most part, private. While other teams can support from afar, and have, the fight has always been kept within the nation itself. Today, something feels different.

With the USWNT winning their long-standing battle with USSF and achieving equal pay, we knew the domino would start to fall. It was just a matter of when. When will other federations around the world have to face the music for the years - no decades - of mistreatment of their women? It has been just 6 months since the USWNT signed their historic CBA, and since then we’ve seen players from Spain, Canada, Peru, and now France, protest their Federation publically in their own fight for equity… or even just for better treatment.

Historically, the USWNT have been the outspoken team, the ones leading the charge in a public fight against their federation. On that historic day in August of 2022, when the CBA was signed, it was solidified that this public battle that generations of players endured, had paid off. Players around the world are demanding better, demanding more, and now they are not afraid to make it public.

Don’t get me wrong, here, there is so much sadness on this dark day. Spanish and French players are giving up their international career to fight for equity. Canadian players are being forced to play against their will under threat of lawsuits. We are not ok, the soccer world is not ok, and the truth is that it never was ‘OK’.

But, we are better. We have seen that better is possible, and today signifies that there is a reckoning happening across the world in the women’s game. A reckoning that will catch up to every federation at some point.

Right now, the spotlight is on France, Spain, Canada, Peru. We don’t know who is next, but we know one thing for certain: every single federation in the world will need to face this at some point, it’s just a matter of when.

So, for all of you women’s soccer fans out there who call this a dark day, I say the opposite. It’s heartbreaking that we have come to this, yes. It’s heartbreaking that we ever needed to fight for equality, yes. It’s heartbreaking to peek behind the curtain of the game that we love so purely, so intensely, and see the corruption, the misogyny, and perhaps even remember that the world of soccer actually isn’t any different than the rest of the corrupt world. News like today’s serves as a reminder of the constant pain and heartbreak that has been this battle - for players, for fans, for women and feminists everywhere throughout time. I’m here to give you hope, though, if you have lost it. Today is different from other days. Today gives us hope that there will be equity for players around the world because today’s brave players care more about the future of the game than about their own careers. I’ve never been more proud - and more heartbroken - to be a women’s soccer fan. But mainly, I’ve never been more proud.

Written by Sara Ach

Twitter @supertornado3

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