“Old, male and stale.” Those are the adjectives U.S. women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe used to describe world soccer’s governing body after it shortlisted an amateur player for its annual best women’s player of the year award.
“It signals to us and it signals to the rest of the world that FIFA doesn’t really care [about women’s soccer],” Rapinoe, who was not shortlisted for the award, told the BBC on Monday shortly before the award was handed out.
The nominees were eventual winner Lieke Martens of the Netherlands, who plays for Barcelona; USWNT star Carli Lloyd, who plays for Manchester City; and Deyna Castellanos of Venezuela, who plays for Florida State. Castellanos has never played professionally, nor has she ever featured in a senior-level international tournament, such as the Women’s World Cup.
“The award just doesn’t hold a lot of weight when you’ve got someone on the list I’ve never heard of,” added Rapinoe, who helped propel Team USA to a 2015 Women’s World Cup win.
This is not the first time FIFA’s been accused of all but ignoring the women’s game.
Team USA’s Alex Morgan, who was nominated for the award in 2012, said then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter didn’t know who she was at the awards dinner.
“That was pretty shocking,” she said in a 2015 interview with Time magazine in which she recalled the incident. “I have experienced sexism multiple times, and I’m sure I will a lot more.”
Today’s criticism, however, may be more reflective of a wider recognition problem within women’s soccer. The award nominees aren’t decided by FIFA executives alone, but by national team coaches, national team captains, media representatives and fans. Each group gets an equal voice, according to the BBC, which FIFA said absolves it in this case.
“The process is clear and transparent and we are not involved in the final selection of nominees,” FIFA said in a statement (via the BBC). “However, we have taken note of the concerns raised by the football community and our fans and will take this feedback on board in future editions of The Best Awards.”
Rapinoe does not appear to have bought that explanation, however, noting that if the same thing had happened on the male side, which saw eventual winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar nominated for the award, FIFA would have stepped in.
“So it’s disappointing that the same hasn’t been done for us,” Rapinoe, who plays for the Seattle Reign, said.
Rapinoe is not alone in her thinking. When the shortlist was first announced last month, several female stars reacted on social media, including Australians Lisa de Vanna and Caitlin Foord.
Meanwhile, Team USA’s Kelley O’Hara and former USWNT star Abby Wambach joined several in wondering how Australia’s Sam Kerr was overlooked for the award. Kerr had a record-breaking season with New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC, scoring 17 goals. She also scored seven goals for the Aussie national team this season.
Kerr kept her comments on her snub minimal, but retweeted Wambach’s sentiment.
Castellanos, meanwhile, appeared just as shocked as everyone else to hear she’d been nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in the game.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she told the BBC this week. “I was so emotional.”
In her defense, Castellanos is a very talented player, who shined bright at the U-17 World Cup, dazzling fans with a long-range goal that also saw her nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award. Arsenal star Olivier Giroud ended up winning the award that is determined by an online fan vote for his scorpion kick goal against Crystal Palace.
By Monday night’s soiree in London, however, Castellanos appeared comfortable with her newfound, if slightly controversial fame. With a seat next to Ronaldo’s family, Castellanos took advantage of the opportunity to get a few selfies.
She also posted a snapshot with Lloyd, whom she called a role model on Instagram, and congratulated the winner, Martens, later on Twitter.
“Congratulations @liekemartens1 for winning the #TheBestFIFA!! Well deserved! Happy to be here and hope to continue improving.”