By Matthew Lavietes and Amy Tennery
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Amid confetti and chants of “equal pay,” New York honoured the U.S. women’s soccer team on Wednesday with a ticker-tape parade up the “Canyon of Heroes,” celebrating its World Cup triumph and hailing the players’ emergence as icons of women’s rights.
The squad’s 2-0 win over Netherlands in the final match on Sunday capped a World Cup campaign that attracted vast television audiences, reflecting the popularity of a U.S. soccer team that has dominated international competition, winning a record fourth title.
A party atmosphere filled lower Manhattan as marching bands and women on motorcycles escorted floats carrying the players, coaches and staff up Broadway to a City Hall rally along a route dubbed “the Canyon of Heroes.”
But the parade in New York’s financial district was more than a tribute to a championship team, which has been involved in a well-publicized fight with the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay with the U.S. men’s national team. The cause has endeared the players to those who support demands by women in general for pay equality.
“This is how I want my daughters to see what women can do and what women should be,” said Gabrielle Blecher, 49, of Brooklyn, a mother of daughters aged 11 and 13, who works in an office along the parade route.
The month-long World Cup tournament attracted a huge television audience and gave the sport fresh momentum in the United States, where it has traditionally lagged in popularity behind American football, baseball and basketball.
At City Hall, Mayor Bill de Blasio presented the ceremonial keys to the city to the team, and star players Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd thanked the country for supporting the team.
“Make this world a better place,” said Rapinoe, the tournament’s top scorer, who thrilled the crowd with her now-famous post-goal pose, arms aloft and a beaming smile on her face.
“Love more, hate less,” the purple-haired Rapinoe said, pointing to the team’s diversity in terms of race and sexual orientation. “There has been so much contention in these past few years.”
As she spoke, a few spectators waved “Trump 2020” flags and one held a sign calling Rapinoe an “America hater,” an apparent reference to her refusal to put a hand over her heart when the U.S. national anthem was played during the World Cup.
In March, all 28 players on the women’s team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, demanding equal compensation with their male counterparts who earn much a higher base pay.
“We stand with them in solidarity. Equal pay for equal work,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a press conference at the start of the parade, after signing into law an equal pay bill passed by the New York State Legislature this year.
Olivia Ciampi, 15, of Queens, New York, who joined the festivities with her mother, agreed equal pay for the team was long overdue.
“They work so hard and they win so many titles and they really do so much and they deserve it,” she said.
Hours after the ceremony, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Patty Murray, both Democrats, introduced a bill requiring equal pay and compensation for all U.S. national athletes.
“America cheered as the women’s soccer team won an historic fourth World Cup, but our support shouldn’t end with ticker-tape parades,” Feinstein said in a statement.
The ticker tape parade is a New York tradition dating back to the 19th century. Past honourees have included Charles Lindbergh after his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean; Neil Armstrong and other Apollo 11 astronauts after their mission to the moon; and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. In recent decades, the honour has been reserved for championship teams, including the New York Yankees and New York Giants.
Despite the name, recent “ticker tape” parades have been missing the ticker tape – the strips of paper that once ran through stock tickers providing price quotes for Wall Street traders.
On Wednesday, about a tonne of confetti made from shredded paper was tossed from about 20 buildings with windows that can open – now a rarity in lower Manhattan, according to the Alliance of Downtown New York, the parade organizer.
(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes and Amy Tennery; Additional reporting by Catherine Koppel and Barbara Goldberg; editing by Frank McGurty, Steve Orlofsky, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)