Why Are Some Olympic Women’s Teams Flying Coach While the Men Fly Business?

Japan’s World Cup-winning women’s soccer team flew to the London Olympics in premium economy class, while their male counterparts in the under-23 team were taken in business. Why?

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Toru Hanai / REUTERS

From left: Japan's women's World Cup soccer team head coach Norio Sasaki, captain Homare Sawa and player Shinobu Ohno pose with other team members during a photo session after a news conference in Tokyo July 19, 2011.

Japan’s World Cup-winning women’s soccer team flew to the London Olympics in premium economy class, while their male counterparts in the under-23 team got to travel in business class. Why? According to the Japanese Football Association (JFA), it’s because the men are professional players and the women are not.

(MORE: Women’s Football: Nadeshiko Japan and Homare Sawa)

Speaking with Japanese media after the 13-hour flight to Paris on Monday, Homare Sawa, the team’s captain and FIFA’s 2011 player of the year, remarked: “I guess it should have been the other way around. Even in terms of age, we are senior.” The incident has caused considerable controversy, especially considering the stature of the women’s team, one of Japan’s brightest hopes for gold medal glory this summer. Following the tsunami and nuclear crisis which devastated the nation in 2011, their 3-1 win on penalties over the U.S. in the World Cup final in July instantly rocketed them to stardom and gave the country cause for celebration.

(MORE: Japan’s Uplifting Women’s World Cup)

Sawa noted that the JFA did upgrade their flights back home to business following their World Cup victory last July, but it appears that this was an exception. As Krista Mahr writes in TIME’s Olympics special issue, Japanese women soccer players receive “far less funding, fewer sponsors and smaller fan base than their male counterparts.” This goes a long way in explaining why the men’s team, even the youth team, can afford to be professional full-time players, and the women still have to stick with being semi-pro. However the fortunes of women’s soccer took a positive turn following the national team’s spectacular World Cup win. The league, which was up until that point sponsored by Plenus Co., saw a flood of new sponsors from some of Japan’s biggest corporate names: Sumitomo Mitsui Card Co., Konami Digital Entertainment Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.

How this translates into their treatment during the Olympics is unclear. The JFA President made a statement on Wednesday that the women would have to win gold for them to be considered for an upgrade once again, however the men, who are not considered medal-contenders at all, will be there whatever the result. There is also wider pressure on the Nadeshiko, as the women’s team is known, as it will not only be the JFA looking on them to do well, but the sponsors who will need encouragement to invest further into the women’s game.

(MOREBehind Britain’s Sordid Soccer Sexism Controversy)

The double standards at play do not appear to be isolated to the Japanese team either. The Sydney Morning Herald has reported on the displeasure of Australia’s women’s basketball team at their treatment at the hands of the Australian Olympic Committee over the years. The team was flown over to London in a mix of business, premium economy and economy, while their male counterparts, who (unlike their female counterparts) have yet to medal at the Games, were all taken in business. The reasons given by a Basketball Australia spokesperson to justify the different travel arrangements was that both teams have different budgets, and factors such as the heights of the players are taken into consideration.

The governing body has now weighed in once again following the criticism it faced from national media and politicians. Scott Derwin, the Basketball Australia’s acting chief executive, noted that historically, the women’s team received more funding than the men’s, and added: “But the simple fact is when a policy results in gender inequality, it’s very clearly not the right policy going forward.” He has confirmed their aim to ensure equity in future travel arrangements.

(MORE: Olympics 2012: Britain Is Again the Centre of the Sports Universe)

The Japanese women have yet to hear a similar commitment from the JFA. Part of the reason could be that the story received limited coverage in Japan, whereas it has been widely commented on elsewhere. Nikkan Sports daily were among the few to note the incident. “The JFA perpetuated the sexist divide that has existed in the world of soccer for a long time,” it wrote.

The women’s team were set to land at Birmingham airport on Friday afternoon ahead of their July 25 opener against Canada in Coventry. It is unclear which class they have been flown over in, but the gender politics in their sport will have to wait as they focus on the task at hand. The team suffered a 2-0 defeat against France on Thursday in their last friendly before the Games; and while they are currently ranked 3rd in the world, it will take a lot to beat the likes of the U.S. and Brazil, who are considered favorites for the gold.


Marie, you have to be one of the most ill informed women on the planet, you are the exact reason men are sick of feminists, your the cry baby, your trying to be clever but it more and more obvious your are not, you are an example of the case your are trying to make, my whole workplace is sitting here laughing at your coments, if women want to be taken more serioulsy they need to find a way to shut people like marie up, everytime u coment women take one step backwards

..also you blame men for every problem women are facing you say its all up to us and what you dont have is our fault

well it is also men you have to thank for everything you do have, these issues of freedom of speech, equality, the right to vote etc, men have been fighting for and dying for for thousands of years now that we have it woman want it handed over to them,

the reason freedom of speech is a right

 the reason equality is prevelent (in most 1st worlds)

the reason you can vote

the reason you get paid the same money

and all the rest is because men have decided woman should have it

somewhere along the line it was men who gave woman everything they have to be thankfull for

if it wasnt for men you would be speaking german right now

wonder what rights you would have

all i hear is one woman after another bitchin cause they want more and more(typical really)

but are there any woman out there that are actually thankfull for what they have

maybe its cause its been so long withought a world war it seems woman start to forget what men have done for them

and how important we may be in the near future

Im Australian, my country was the first in the world to allow women to vote

we have a women prime minister running the country

i grew up next the a golf course, the first in the world women were allowed to play on,

woman have come a very long way in the last 100 years and so have men

whilst no one will say its perfect we are all trying to make this worl a better place for both men and woman

a little less bitching and a little more apprciation once in a while would go a long way( besides being a woman growing up in america one would think you have plenty to be thankful for)

i can only imagine a poor little indian girl or muslim girl in a slim reading what these "1st world" woman complain about....must make there skin crawl


The solution is simple. Both male and female athletes should fly economy class and economize.  Sports are very pretty to watch, but they don't feed the bulldog.


I'm surprised the countries sending teams to the Olympics even let whole teams fly on the same plane!

Years ago, the college I went to did that and the whole team died in a plane crash. Now the teams are split up and fly on separate planes.

Also, some companies I worked for did not allow more than two people from the same department to travel in the same car, even on short trips.


Japanese woman footballers cannot deliver enough TV ratings to attract sponsors to 'buy' those first class tickets. Tickets as everyone knows, costs money, first class tickets, even more.

Of-course, men are to be blamed, for not watching soccer played by woman.

How dare they !!!!!!!


Tej Kommula
Tej Kommula

It's very simple: the men's teams have bigger budgets because they have a bigger fan base and generate more money. Regardless of their level of success, women's sports are not widely followed. Thus they generate less money and sponsors. The local high school around here has won a bunch of state championships. Does that entitle them to all the same privileges as the bottom-dwelling Cleveland Browns? After all, they had more success right?


This stinks of sexism! Hey, didn't the Japanese get the 911:  BELGIUM

Scientists discover that women are the superior of the sexes. To read more on this innovative study, go to thegreaterbooks.com

Alena TVfan
Alena TVfan

You'd need to be an Olympic gymnast to even fit  in coach these days!  And even they have to twist and contort.


Time, you really need to get your collective heads out of your posteriors.

You will do a big article on how "sexist" and "discriminatory" it is for these women to fly coach, while the guys ride business.

Well, how about tackling a REAL issue concerning women's rights.

How about doing feature pieces on islam's treatment of women.

You know, how they can't go to school, vote, drive, walk outside unaccompanied by men.

Let's see the hard hitting piece about how women in islam are lower than cattle, and can be killed for, well, looking at or talking to the wrong person. Let's talk about how women are forced to cover themselves from head to foot to keep the men, who have no self-control, from raping them.

Or, maybe you could do a hard hitting piece about how little girls, as young as 6 years old, are forced into marriage.

Let's see the article on Female Genital Mutilation, which is done so the women won't commit adultery ("if they don't enjoy sex, they won't go looking for it").

Oh, forgot, that would be a REAL ISSUE!

When Time can do articles that deal with ACTUAL DISCRIMINATION, then maybe Time will actually start building a reputation as a "News" agency and not a propaganda machine.


And we really care about this because ?????

Galen Kearney
Galen Kearney

Women are smaller and fit more easily into the economy class seats. This is not a matter of sexism or discrimination, but simply one of efficient packaging, something the Japanese (and Germans) have historically excelled at.


Quit complaining. We let them out of the kitchen, didn't we? For now, anyway.


BECAUSE MEN DO NOT VIEW WOMEN AS EQUALS. we are viewed by men as worth less, not complete human beings like they are.

like this is so freaking complicated? like we don't have the past 5,000 years of history to demonstrate this?

men will never view women as equals. in their mind, women aren't human. that's why we fly coach. that's why we get acid thrown in our face for going to school. do you want me to go on?

David Ridsdale
David Ridsdale

You forgot to mention the two Japanese teams were on the same flight...


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