LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The lawsuit recently filed by the U.S. women’s soccer team is part of a wider public “awakening” to the challenges that women athletes face, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told Reuters on Saturday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the launch of an initiative aimed at the development of more women coaches, Garcetti said the suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging wage discrimination marked an important step toward gender equality.
“I think there is an awakening happening in women’s sports whether it’s abuse, discrimination or simply having basic civil rights denied,” he told Reuters.
“I support women athletes who are saying enough is enough. That for too long the federations have not done right by them to protect them and empower them,” he said.
“It’s an exciting moment to see that happening.”
Closing the pay gap between male and female athletes is critical to attracting women to professional sports, which will in turn boost the popularity of women’s sports leagues, he said.
Women would no longer accept being treated as second class citizens by their sports, he said, and will demand a greater share of the overall wealth it generates going forward.
“The WNBA survives and it has been great to see it survive but women who play in the WNBA have to cobble together jobs in Europe in between,” he said.
“We have to step up as a society and say this matters and that men and women should be on as equal a footing as we can be.”
The next generation of woman athletes will be better served if they can see similarities between themselves, their coaches and the sports icons they look up to, U.S. gold medallist gymnast Laurie Hernandez said at the Women Coach LA launch event.
“I took it as a really big responsibility to be a role model for these kids,” she told a gathering of about 400 women at the kickoff for the initiative, which is a partnership between the City of LA and Nike.
“Growing up I didn’t see many, if any, Hispanic gymnasts and I just resorted to being my own person,” she said.
“I guess I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was to be a Hispanic American on the Olympic team because then so many little girls started becoming gymnasts,” she said.
“And it’s because they saw someone that looked like them.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Nick Mulvenney