Japanese Women Fly Coach to Olympics—While Men Get Business Class

In Japan, winning a world title earns you a seat at the back of the bus, er, plane.

The Japanese women’s soccer team flew to Europe Sunday on the same flight as the men’s team. While the women crammed into coach seats, the men’s team scored seats in business class. As it stands, this would be an injustice, but here’s the kicker: The women are world champions; the men are, well, not as successful.

The Nadeshiko, as the women’s team is known, won the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer, beating out the U.S. team in a spectacular final. Just months after the country’s devastating earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis, the team’s victory brought hope to its battered compatriots, and the women were welcomed back from the final as heroes.

A year later, that inspiration seems to have been forgotten, at least by the Japanese Football Association, who said the men’s and women’s teams had left Tokyo on the same flight without any mention of the seating inequality. London’s The Guardian reported the women’s team’s reactions:

‘I guess it should have been the other way around,’ Homare Sawa, the team’s star player, told Japanese media. ‘Even just in terms of age, we are senior,’ she joked.

Nadeshiko’s success last year and their continued achievements (they beat Australia, the 10th-ranked team in the world, 3-0 last week in an international friendly) has sparked conversation about their gold medal possibilities. The team is ranked No. 3 in the world, behind the U.S. and Germany. The men’s team is No. 20 and not expected to medal in London.

There’s some hope for more leg room: The JFA says that if the women’s team proves its worth with a medal, the players will fly business class on the return flight to Japan. The last time Nadeshiko flew business class was after their World Cup win, when the JFA thought it acceptable to upgrade their seats. Whether or not the men’s team medals, the men will enjoy seats further up in the cabin.

Photo of Japanese women’s football team celebrating their 2011 FIFA World Cup win from Flickr user demosphere via Creative Commons 3.0.


Rebecca is an editorial intern for Ms. She is a Seattle native studying journalism and religion at Northwestern University. She has lived and reported in Chicago, London, Washington, D.C. and is now based in Los Angeles.