Last June, thirty world-class female athletes climbed 18,476 feet above sea level to kick a soccer ball through the glass ceiling. Now they’re making a film about it—it’ll be called Equal Playing Field.
Of course, the title’s aspirational. Female athletes have never competed on an equal playing field. Saudi Arabian women weren’t even allowed to attend soccer matches until 2018, and across the Gulf, Iran has yet to lift their equivalent prohibition. British women were effectively banned from playing soccer until 1971. And inadequate media coverage on the part of American news outlets continues to undermine public perceptions of female athleticism to this day.
That injustice snowballs to foster a host of other inequalities for women in sports: low pay, scarce opportunities, sexist commentary, persistent harassment, and unsafe working conditions that include the use of faulty equipment and the persistent threat of sexual assault.
The chauvinists and the ignorant argue that the limit on women’s opportunities in sports is a function of biology rather than politics. They say that women simply can’t compete at the same level as men. But we’ve seen the same arguments made about women in virtually every field. And they’ve always been ridiculous. The problem isn’t a lack of ability. It’s a lack of access.
Last year, thirty women from twenty-four countries united to prove just that with the Equal Playing Field project. Together, they climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for a high-altitude, low-oxygen soccer match—proving that women can indeed play at the highest level. Literally.
This April, after breaking the world record for the highest soccer match ever played, the women of the Equal Playing Field project descended 1,412 feet below sea level to break the world record for the lowest match ever played. They played that second game at the Dead Sea after a twelve-day trip across Jordan, during which they held exhibition matches and ran soccer clinics for local youth along the way.
Over the course of a dozen days, these women shared their story with eight hundred young girls. They talked about how they powered through altitude sickness to play one of the most important matches of their lives. And their message was clear: even when you’re literally sick and tired of the uphill battle, you keep on playing.
It’s a message that couldn’t come from a more qualified group. Some of the world’s most celebrated female soccer players joined the effort: Lori Lindsey of USA, Saja Kamal of Saudi Arabia, Dipa Adhikari of Nepal, Hajra Khan of Afghanistan, and Sasha Andrews of Canada. Other professional and competitive amateur players hailed from Spain, India, Syria, France, Jordan, Palestine, Tanzania, Australia, the UK, and beyond.
These women have struggled for equal play their whole lives, so they know the rules of the game: to change policy, you have to change perceptions. And you can’t change perceptions unless people see you doing it.
That’s why they invited film director Tamara Rosenfeld and director and producer Amirose Eisenbach to document their record-breaking soccer matches. The filmmaking duo’s project, under Eisenbach’s Radiant J. Productions banner, has now reached the editing phase, as they weave the athletes’ individual backstories into a feature-length documentary.
But the impetus for creating the film—the dearth of resources available to women in sports—has proven a challenge for the film itself: Rosenfeld and Eisenbach still don’t have the funds they need to finance post-production. To bridge that gap, they’ve partnered with nonprofit Women Rising Productions, a company dedicated to “lighting the way for women and girls one new heroine at a time.” You can make your own tax-deductible contribution to the project here and be sure to add “Equal Playing Field” or “EPF” to your note. (At the time of writing, they’re about $47,000 short of their goal.)
We’ve finally initiated a multinational dialogue about the challenges that face women in business and entertainment, but we haven’t even begun to tackle the toxic world of sports. These courageous women want to get that conversation started, and I hope you’ll help them, because they’ve already made the climb. They just need a little help getting over the top.