Growing up, children are taught that football is a man’s game. In the United Kingdom, where I grew up, only the boys had football in their school curriculum. Girls did not. Similarly, boys played football in their free time, and if a girl were to join, that was considered random, out of the ordinary, or weird. Comments like “you play like a girl” (implying that this would be bad) are common, and if a girl could play football, she would be mocked for being too masculine and too much of a “tomboy”.
At age 12, girls are banned from official competition with male players in the UK. The justification is that girls are too weak and unable to keep up with the increasing standards of boys during puberty. But that also means girls are often left without a team to play for, without an opportunity for improvement. The same patterns occur in high school and at university. Girls, including myself, have been banned numerous times from playing football with boys during either school sports lessons or official competitions. This is an all-around ban, irrespective of standards of play. Girls are purely and simply excluded.
On a national level, the situation is even more shocking. The British football association banned women from playing the game from 1921 to 1971 because it was deemed “unsuitable” for women. The same ban also happened in Germany, Brazil and The Netherlands. Time and time again women have been kept from playing the game.
In 2019, all members of the US Women’s National Soccer team sued the American Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. Why you ask? Because the US Women’s National Soccer team (one of the best in the world – current World Champions) is paid almost four times less than their men counterpart, who did not even qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The gender pay gap for the FIFA World Cup is $370 million. $370 million! Yes, you read that right.
It is not surprising then that 99.8% of Champions League money spent by UEFA is put into the men’s competition, while only 0.2% is spent on the women’s competition. However, this pay gap is justified by the fact that men’s football generates more money, more spectators, commercial success and sponsorship but isn’t this rooted in the gendered marginalisation of women from the sport? Maybe it is time for equity?
There are fewer opportunities for women in sport, fewer clubs to join, less funding, and fewer sponsorships. Without the opportunity for growth, which the current climate hinders, the standards of play, spectators, sponsorship and amount of women players will never grow. Currently, the dream of becoming a professional woman football player is simply not attractive enough: 70% of women football players have to combine their sporting careers with side jobs. Women professional football players earn roughly a hundredth of the wage of their men counterparts for the same training, same time spent on the pitch and same commitment to the sport.
The lack of investment and opportunities hinders the growth of the sport and prevents women from taking part. Women should not have to compromise in a professional sporting career or consider giving up on their dream because of financial reasons or lack of opportunity. Women should not be sidelined or forced to overcome obstacle after obstacle to pursue their dreams. It is time for equity.