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Imani Dorsey, Ifeoma Onumonu and the BWPC are transforming soccer

Imani Dorsey (left) and Ifeoma Onumonu (right). (Courtesy of the Black Women’s Player Collective)

While other young American athletes dreamed of playing professionally, Ifeoma Onumonu and Imani Dorsey of NJ/NY Gotham FC never grew up envisioning that future for themselves. Not only was soccer expensive, but it was also difficult to picture being a pro given the lack of prominent Black female soccer players.

While girls’ participation in sport is generally limited by a lack of exposure to female athletes and coaches as role models, the drop-out rate for girls of color in urban and rural centers is twice that of suburban white girls, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

“Growing up, most of my role models were men, white men, because there weren’t many other Black female athletes like us,” says Onumonu. “We were the minorities in this sport. And because of that, we never thought we’d be in this position today.”

Onumonu and Imani are both board members for the Black Women’s Player Collective, whose mission is to lift the image, value and representation of Black women as athletes and leaders.

Founded in October 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and a summer of national protests, the BWPC is made up of seven board members, 38 members and 15 advocates. Its roster includes all 43 Black women competing in the NWSL as of 2020.

For both Omunonu and Dorsey, the Collective gives them a chance to confront and address the racial inequity that has long persisted in one of the country’s most popular sports.

“Growing up in a predominantly affluent white area, it felt like I had to hide or downplay my Blackness to fit in, since I was one of few,” says Dorsey. “I had to make things that were different about me from others in my group feel less intimidating. That meant not really speaking up on Black issues that were in the news and that my family was speaking about very regularly. I was not really talking about those topics with my teammates.”

Dorsey says she often had to overlook comments about being an ‘Oreo’ — Black on the outside but white on the inside.

“Now I feel like I can reclaim that part of my identity and celebrate it, but not just as myself but as a group with the Black community,” she says.

Onumonu says her experience was similar.

“I used to just let things slip, let them slide off my back and not bring them up in efforts to stay a part of the group. I think that was damaging to myself and my self-esteem and impacted how I was playing the game and how I performed in the game,” she says.

“Now I feel like I no longer have to do that because I have such a powerful group behind me that supports me. There’s power in numbers and there’s power about talking about these issues.”

This week, the BWPC’s ranks expanded when it announced a long-term partnership with adidas. Together, the Collective and adidas will host soccer clinics and programming for girls aged eight to 15 in cities such as Atlanta, Durham, Orlando and Houston.

The BWPC and adidas, alongside the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Black Players for Change and Musco Lighting, have also committed to building 12 new mini pitches in predominantly Black communities across the U.S. by 2022.

It’s a first step, but a big one, toward making soccer a more accessible game for all.

Dorsey, who grew up in Maryland, shifted from recreational soccer to travel teams around the age of eight. Even then, it was clear to her that the expenses of competing were a prohibitive burden on families. For a chance at a full-ride scholarship in college, parents had to invest in high-level training for their children, starting in grade school.

Thankfully Dorsey, who ended up at Duke, was able to find opportunities in the national program, increasing her exposure to elite competition. But given that only a tiny percentage of soccer players ever have the privilege of wearing the crest, she knows her path isn’t a sustainable solution.

“[Soccer’s] an expensive sport and I think that’s something that we need to change, whether that means providing scholarships for players or redesigning the entire pay-to-play model,” says Onumonu, who was also in the U.S. youth national program, played collegiately at Cal and is now a member of the Nigerian national team.

“The path I had was one that I had the privilege to have, but I know that’s not necessarily the story for everyone,” she says. “And I think that’s why so many Black girls miss out on the opportunity that soccer can bring. I hope our work with the BWPC and adidas can inspire young girls to do whatever it is that they set their mind to.”

Alongside their new partnership, the BWPC is also rolling out a new logo. The vibrance of the logo represents the boldness and disruption of the organization’s mission, with a tilted “W” to signify the Collective’s ascendant ethos and spirit. The warm color palette is meant to represent the players’ love for their sport.

“I’m constantly inspired by the incredible women in the BWPC on a personal level,” says Dorsey. “It’s something that is really close to my heart and I’m even more thankful to our fans who have been so supportive along the way.

“I want to encourage young girls to learn and grow from their teammates, because what I love so much about soccer is my team, and having that friendship is so important to me. Looking back, I wish I was brave enough to let my Blackness be a part of that for more of my teammates, and shed light to hopefully teach other young girls that it’s okay to have a different perspective.”

It’s been a busy couple weeks for Dorsey, who is also a part of the NWSL Players Association, which been working around the clock with players and the league in order to implement immediate and long-term changes in the wake of the Paul Riley scandal.

In this context, the BWPC’s momentum and groundbreaking partnership with adidas is providing a ray of hope in an otherwise difficult time for women’s soccer.

“Our formation as an organization gave us the realization of the power that we have together and that we should be able to openly talk about our experiences as Black women, because that is something we haven’t had the opportunity to do before,” says Dorsey.

“I think that collective power should really inspire young girls to be proud of who they are and being unapologetic about their Blackness and their experiences, regardless of what it is.”

You can learn more about the BWPC’s mission here and donate directly to the Collective here.

Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.

2023 MVP Breanna Stewart Drops 31 Points in Liberty’s Huge Win Over Fever

breanna stewart and jonquel jones of the new york liberty celebrate win over indiana fever
Stewie and the Liberty dominated the court throughout Thursday's Fever home opener. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

The New York Liberty dominated Indiana on Thursday night, winning by a whopping 36 points in the Fever's home opener. 

A sold-out crowd of 17,274 was in attendance to watch as star rookie Caitlin Clark finished the 102-66 defeat with nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists. It’s the first time since January 2021 — her freshman season at Iowa — that Clark's been held to single-digit scoring. 

"The physicality is definitely up there... I'm easily pushed off screens," she told reporters after the loss. "The game seems a little fast for me right now. The more I play and the more comfortable I get, it's going to slow down a little bit. It will be easier for me to make reads, see things develop."

The Fever were outscored by a combined margin of 57 points in their first two games — the largest two-game point deficit in WNBA season-opening history, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.

"We've got to get to a level of toughness," Fever coach Christie Sides in her own postgame remarks. "When things are going south on us, we're not stopping the bleeding."

"I have great perspective on everything that happens," Clark added. "It was the same in my college career. There were some moments that were absolutely amazing. And there were some moments I was not happy with how I played and how my team performed. That's just life, that's just basketball."

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, who herself experienced a rocky rookie season following a much-hyped college career, offered up some insight on the matter.

"In this league, there are tough defenses all centered around not letting you get the ball, trapping, not letting you score," Ionescu said. "There were many factors that played into what was a tough first season for me in the league, but it helps you be able to figure it out. You have to have those experiences."

But it was reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart that truly stole the show, racking up 31 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks on the night.

"In general, I just wanted to come out more aggressive coming off of last game," Stewart said after putting up the 24th 30-point game in her career.

Stewart she also commended the fans inside Indianapolis's packed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, noting that she hopes that level of support to continue across the WNBA.

"This is how you want every game to be and when it's a sell-out crowd, it gives you a similar playoff atmosphere feel," she said. "People want to be a part of this and the thing now is to continue to sustain it, continue to take the momentum that we have and turn it into something more."

WNBA Commissioner Admits to ‘Faulty’ Charter Rollout

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert at 2024 wnba draft
Cathy Engelbert at the 2024 WNBA Draft in New York. (Cora Veltman/Sportico via Getty Images)

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert admitted to a "faulty rollout" of the new charter travel initiative on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Ahead of Tuesday's season opener, it was announced that the only teams flying private this week would be Indiana and Minnesota. The announcement came mere days after the league made a new charter flight program for all WNBA teams public. At the time, they said it would be implemented "as soon as we have the planes."

But as two teams out of 12 chartered to their first games of the season, others like the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky were forced to fly commercial.

A town hall meeting between Engelbert and the players was held in response to the confusion. Everything from the league's new media rights deal to private travel was covered in the meeting, with players submitting their questions ahead of time. Sky center Elizabeth Williams told Sun-Times reporter Annie Costabile afterwards that cross-country flights were prioritized.

"Flights that are across the country like [the Lynx] going to Seattle, crossing multiple time zones, or flights that usually require a connection, those were the priorities," Williams said. "That’s why New York didn’t go to DC with a charter, but Minny goes to Seattle."

What’s unclear under that metric is that the Atlanta Dream played the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, which could technically be classified as a cross-country flight. 

On Tuesday, rookie forward Angel Reese shared a photo on her Instagram story lamenting the league's use of commercial flights.

"Just praying that this is one of the last commercial flights the Sky has to fly," Reese posted. The team still has at least three commercial flights awaiting them in the near future.

"Obviously, I think all teams should be able to get chartered," Reese told the Sun-Times. "But I know moving forward... going in the right direction, being able to have some teams [chartering] is cool. Within the next weeks, everybody will be flying charter, which will be really good."

On Thursday, Lindsay Schnell of USAToday Sports confirmed that the league intends to have all teams on charter flights by May 21st.

Brazil Wins Bid for 2027 Women’s World Cup Host

fifa womens world cup trophy on display
The FIFA Women's World Cup trophy on display in Bangkok after Brazil was announced as the 2027 host country. (Thananuwat Srirasant - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Brazil has been named the host for the 2027 Women’s World Cup, with FIFA announced early Friday. 

The decision came after a vote at the 74th FIFA Congress in Bangkok, with Brazil earning 119 votes to the joint European bid’s 78. 

This will be Brazil’s first time hosting the Women’s World Cup, with the country having hosted the men’s World Cup twice before in 1950 and 2014. It will also be the first Women’s World Cup held in South America. The tournament will follow the same 32-team format as the 2023 WWC in Australia and New Zealand.

Brazil winning the bid was not entirely surprising after FIFA issued a report just last week, stating that the Brazilian bid had pulled ahead as host following technical inspection. After evaluation, Brazil was given a score of 4.0 out of 5, compared to the 3.7 awarded to the Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Brazil ranked higher in a number of key areas, including stadiums, accommodations, fan zones, and transport infrastructure. Though considered to be a frontrunner, the US and Mexico withdrew their joint bid prior to the technical inspection period, saying they would instead focus their efforts on 2031.

On Friday, Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) president Ednaldo Rodrigues called it a "victory." 

"We knew we would be celebrating a victory for South American women's soccer and for women," he told reporters. "You can be sure, with no vanity, we will accomplish the best World Cup for women."

"We are working on a transformation, not only for the country but for the continent," added bid team operational manager Valesca Araujo.

Brazil intends to use 10 of the venues utilized at the 2014 men’s World Cup, including holding the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 25th. The CBF's proposal outlines that the 2027 tournament run from June 24th through the end of July. Last summer’s World Cup began at the end of July and concluded on August 19th.

Another notable element of Brazil's newly unveiled plan to grow of the women’s game is that "all [men’s] clubs wishing to take part in high-level national and continental competitions must now provide a structure for a women’s team." While the definition of "structure" was not specifically identified, the country has set targets with CONMEBOL to help increase the number of women’s club teams in the country.

In last week's inspection findings, FIFA noted that selecting Brazil as the next WWC host could "have a tremendous impact on women's football in the region."

Chelsea Eyes Weekend Finale With WSL Title in Sight

chelsea players celebrate win against tottenham in the wsl
Chelsea beat Tottenham on Wednesday, moving to the top of the table in an effort to win departing coach Emma Hayes some silverware. (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Chelsea did what they needed to do on Wednesday in order to make Saturday's slate of season-ending WSL fixtures interesting: Beat Tottenham.

The Blues are now number one in the league, with an edge over Manchester City on goal differential thanks to an eight-goal outing against Bristol City last week. 

Yesterday's result tees up a league finale for the books as Chelsea looks to send coach Emma Hayes off with another trophy to add to her cabinet. The Blues will play FA Cup winner Manchester City at Old Trafford on Saturday, while City is away at Aston Villa.

"We will be leaving nothing on the pitch, we will be giving everything and no matter what the result is," Chelsea midfielder Erin Cuthbert said after Wednesday's win. "At least we can look each other in the eye and say we gave everything."

It makes for a thrilling end to Chelsea's Emma Hayes era, as the decorated WSL coach will take over the USWNT in June. And it comes after Hayes all but conceded the title race early this month after Chelsea fell to Liverpool 4-3.

"I think the title is done," Hayes said at the time. "Of course, mathematically, it's not, but I think the title is done. Our job between now and the end of the season is to keep pushing until the end, but I think it will be very difficult.

"We will never give up. But the title is far from us; it's not in our hands. I think City are deserving, their consistency has put them in that position. Of course, we will go to the end, but I don't think the title will be going to us this year."

Be it mind games or Hayes truly thinking her team was that far off, her words lit something in Chelsea. Their following two performances showed the team’s determination to have a shot at some silverware.

As for Saturday's schedule, Hayes believes her team is facing the "tougher of the two games."

"It's a fitting finale for me, being my final game," she told BBC Sport. "As I said to the players if someone gives you a second chance in life, make sure you don't need a third one. We're in the position we want to be in, and we'll give it everything on Saturday no matter what."

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