FIFA's scheduling congestion further proves women's soccer is treated like a second-class citizen

Leander Schaerlaeckens

There was, shall we say, some soccer on TV on Tuesday.

The United States women’s national team finally opened its World Cup, one of three games played. Italy and Belgium both played on the men’s side, highlighting a slate of 13 men’s Euro 2020 qualifiers. Meanwhile, the Under-20 World Cup played its semifinals.

On Saturday, the Women’s World Cup offers up two games while the Copa America gets going in earnest with two games – including much-anticipated Argentina-Colombia – and the Gold Cup kicks off with two games of its own, featuring the favorite Mexico. That same day, the Under-20 World Cup final happens as well.

Sunday: two Women’s World Cup games; two Copa America games; two Gold Cup games.

Next Monday: four Women’s World Cup games; two Gold Cup games; a Copa America game.

And ultimately on July 7?

The final of the Women’s World Cup. The final of the Copa America. And the final of the Gold Cup.

How could this happen?

How could this many major tournaments all be crammed into the same small timeframe?

REIMS, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Carli Lloyd of USA reacts during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between USA and Thailand at Stade Auguste Delaune on June 11, 2019 in Reims, France. (Photo by Molly Darlington - AMA/Getty Images)
The Women's World Cup final is on the same day as the finals of Copa America and the Gold Cup. What gives? (Getty)

Part of the reason for all this congestion is simply that there are too many of these tournaments to spread them out, and they’re held early in the summer – on the men’s side, anyway – so that the players get a break before the club season resumes in August.

Another piece to it is that, well, next summer will feature the European Championships, yet another Copa America – it’s moving to a quadrennial schedule but didn’t want to skip an edition, because money – and the Olympics. And the following summer, 2021, the Gold Cup, the Africa Cup of Nations and the newly revamped Club World Cup are on the docket. And then the men’s World Cup returns in 2022.

Yet none of that excuses planning three major finals for the same day. FIFA should never have allowed anything to overshadow, or even encroach on, the Women’s World Cup. A World Cup should always be the main event, no matter the gender, with suitable deference paid in the scheduling of other tournaments.

And while CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, putting on its big final on the same day as the Women’s World Cup’s is unacceptable, it’s not entirely unexpected. Down there, the women’s game still lags far behind the men’s version of the sport in both funding and relevance. Sure, Brazil has had a fair amount of success with seven semifinal places in the Olympics and World Cup, but that’s more to do with individual brilliance than a committed federation. But for CONCACAF, the governing body for North and Central America and the Carribean, this is a truly egregious mistake. The United States is one of the favorites for this tournament, and Canada tends to show well on the global stage.

Less satisfying still? CONCACAF’s explanation. “It was simply an error,” CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani told Sports Illustrated recently.

It hadn’t occurred to anybody at CONCACAF, which also governs the women’s game on this continent, to check the women’s schedule until it was too late?

Given all of this, it’s a credit to the growth of the women’s game that it’s pulling in enormous TV ratings in the United States and England and a less-established women’s soccer market like Italy all the same.

But it nevertheless emphasizes a wider trend of lingering disregard for the elite women’s event. The kind of second-class status underscored by the puny pot of prize money, relative to the men’s tournament – even after it was doubled since the 2015 edition. The fact that no team in France has a home base to operate from, the way it would in a men’s tournament. And, of course, the larger affront that nobody thought to give the women a day to themselves for the biggest game in their quadrennial cycle.

There is one U.S. national team benefiting from all this though, in a strange sort of way: the men. Because at no time in memory has there been this little hype, this little attention, this little scrutiny on its Gold Cup campaign. Especially when it’s the version of the biennial tournament that doesn’t coincide with World Cup Qualifiers, meaning that each team’s best players are available for the continental championship.

Why is that a good thing? Because under newish manager Gregg Berhalter, the U.S. is very much rebuilding, as evidenced by disheveling pre-tournament friendly losses to Jamaica and Venezuela. And getting to figure things out in a major tournament – the biggest outside of the World Cup in the four-year men’s cycle – with a fairly young team without the glare or expectation of the nation’s attention isn’t an entirely bad thing.

But then that won’t be much consolation to the U.S. women should they reach a third straight World Cup final, having to share the spotlight with two other big finals on the day.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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