Equal Playing Field: The Altitude Football Project

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In just a few days, 30 women from 25 countries will summit Mt. Kilimanjaro to break the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude FIFA-regulation football/soccer game ever played, to call for equality, opportunity, and respect for women in sport.

In today’s society, women’s sports remains under-represented in science studies, media coverage, participation, and leadership positions. Female athletes and sports team continue to be under-supported and under-valued. The Equal Playing Field’s (EPF) Altitude Football Project hopes to raise awareness for not only equality in sports, but to “challenge the social norms for girls and women in sport” and acknowledge “the systematic, structured inequality that girls and women face in most aspects of their lives.”

The climb, expected to last seven to ten days, will involve women scaling nearly 6,000 meters (19,330 feet) of Africa’s highest mountain. According to CNN, after reaching the summit they will descend to 18,799 feet and play a 90-minute, 11-a-side match on a volcanic ash pitch at an altitude not attempted before.

The footballers, ranging in age from 18 to 66 years old and representing 20 nationalities, include retired US international Lori Lindsey, former England midfielder Rachel Unitt, ex-Germany international Petra Landers and former Mexico captain Monica Gonzalez.

The fight for women’s equality is not a new topic in sports.  In April, the US women’s national soccer team ended a long-running dispute over pay and conditions by agreeing a new deal with US Soccer, the country’s governing body. US women’s hockey threatened to boycott the world championships before agreeing a pay deal just three days before the start of the tournament, while a tennis tournament director was forced to resign in March after saying female players “ride on the coattails of the men.”

Equal Playing Field’s co-founder, Laura Youngson, believes in the power of sports. “Sport brings friendships and community, commitment and leadership, and strength and health. No girl should miss out on those benefits because of her gender.”

I agree completely, but am amazed at the lengths we must continue to go to in order to close the gender gap in sports.

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U.S. women’s hockey wins the gold medal and equal pay

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It was a wild three weeks for the U.S. women’s national hockey team that culminated with a gold medal win in overtime against team Canada.

But getting to that championship game took courage, determination, and a will to stand up for what they believed in.

The 2017 International Ice Hockey World Championship took place for the first time ever on US soil at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. The tournament takes place annually in non-Olympic years to determine the world champion in senior women’s hockey.

The event, March 31 through April 7, 2017, was an 8-team, 22-game tournament that saw a total of 18 games played on the arena’s main sheet (NHL-sized rink), while four games were played on the arena’s secondary sheet (Olympic-sized rink).

The teams competing in Plymouth in ranking order were USA, Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany. Team USA won gold in the 2016 tournament, held in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada.

But in a surprise move, the American players called a boycott of the event on March 15th telling USA Hockey they wouldn’t participate without a new contract that offered better pay, more PR and marketing support from USA Hockey, and equitable treatment to what the men receive.

USA Hockey pushed back and threatened to send a replacement team. However, when they attempted to seek out replacement players, they received a resounding “no” from most of those asked.

The women stood strong and with help of a smart social media campaign, and support from several sponsors and professional sports leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL), their message was heard.

An agreement was finally reached on March 29th which left the women only 48 hours to prepare for the tournament. Bu there was no way they were going to cause such a stir and not win the gold medal on their home turf.

“We knew a lot of eyes were on us, and there was pressure,” American Kendall Coyne told ESPNW.

They handled the pressure like champions by winning five games in eight days. The gold medal game v. Canada was a nail-biter that went into overtime before American forward Hilary Knight, off an assist from Coyne, ripped one in the next to win it.

It was the team USA’s seventh world title in eight years, and was the perfect, and only way to end their unprecedented journey for equal rights.

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