This year’s Women’s World Cup was one of the most watched in history. But staggering gender disparities still persist in the world of football, writes our editor Cassie.
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Women make up roughly 50% of our global population but still face significant human rights challenges, including some which are less visible but equally damaging such as gender bias in institutions like the media. Cassie, our Women’s Section Editor, reminds us of the women’s rights issues that were important to us in 2019.
Forget VAR, Russia 2018 highlights the darker side of the world’s largest travelling festival.
For many, the World Cup is a travelling festival that brings excitement and entertainment, while for others, it is a dull season of analysis and discussion. For some, however, the World Cup is a reflection of their nation’s place in the world, something that brings with it complex questions of national identity.
During the 2014 World Cup, analysis from British Future found that two thirds of players at the tournament lived and worked outside the countries they represented. This year, England is sending its most diverse squad in history to Russia in the hopes of a victory. Football, it’s clear, is becoming more open and inclusive. However, the reaction of fans to their teams’ cultural development can serve as an uneasy reminder of the insular nationalism that is so often associated with sporting achievements.
History of Racism
Football controversy is nothing new. In 2016, leader of the far right Alternative for Germany party, Alexander Gauland, was quoted as saying that while the German team’s star defender, Jérôme Boateng – whose father is from Ghana – was a skilled player, most Germans “don’t want to have a Boateng as their neighbour”. In the same year, questions were raised about the French national squad for the European Championships excluding players on racial grounds.
Incidents like these seem likely to continue this year. A joint report from anti-discrimination group the Fare Network and data analysis agency the Sova Center found that incidents of racist chants increased in games played in Russian Stadiums before the World Cup kicked off, amid an unprecedented spike in homophobic abuse.
As the World Cup kicks into full swing, there have already been incidents of discrimination directed at players. After conceding a winning goal to Germany on Saturday, Swedish midfielder Jimmy Durmaz,who was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents, faced a torrent of online abuse which, rather than critiquing his sporting ability, focused on his background as a second-generation immigrant.
Thankfully, steps are being taken to combat such discrimination at this year’s games. Referees, for example, will have the power to stop games if they witness incidents of racism or discrimination – from players or fans. It remains to be seen, however, whether policies like these will make much of a difference, as football has a history of introducing anti-discrimination policies that are more symbolic than effective.
Either way, the World Cup provides an opportunity for policymakers, players and fans alike to come to terms with discrimination and abuse. Amid the growing diversity of players, a frank analysis of football’s dark side is long overdue.
When we think of ‘sport’, our minds are almost automatically drawn to male teams, players and athletes – whether they are internationally renowned stars, or those in our local communities. Nonetheless, women’s representation in sport is on the rise, with a growing number of young girls getting active and continuing sport into adulthood. We’ve taken a closer look at some of the progress that has been made to embrace and promote the representation of women in the sporting world.
The New Zealand women’s national soccer team triumphed earlier this month by closing the gender pay gap with their male counterparts. The women’s team rank 20th in the world, while the male team come in 133rd. The ‘Football Ferns’ will now receive the same pay, prize money, rights for image use, and travel budget as the men’s team. New Zealand is paving the way, becoming the first country to ever reach full financial parity between its male and female soccer teams.
On the other side of the world, the very opposite has been happening within the English Rugby Football Union. Prior to last summer’s Women’s Rugby World Cup, the 38 professional players on the English women’s rugby team were informed that only 17 players would have their contracts renewed after the tournament. According to the RFU, the step was made to prioritise the women’s sevens team, but it has received criticism from both players and members of the House of Commons, being described as a huge blow to women’s rugby in England.
While female participation in sport has surged, media coverage of women’s sport has not. The media have huge potential to influence our perceptions of women in sport, particularly in comparison to our perceptions of male athletes. In the US, ESPN devotes 2 percent of airtime to women’s sport, a figure which has not changed since 1999.
In the UK, women’s sports makes up 7 percent of all sports media coverage. While TG4 and RTÉ have increased their coverage of ladies’ football, camogie, boxing, and rugby, broadcasters and advertisers are slow to fully embrace female sports. It’s worth bearing in mind how this may influence the wider public’s interest in women’s sport, especially for young girls – “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it”.