So far I’ve attended four Women’s World Cup matches in Vancouver, and I have tickets for the final on July 5th. It’s exciting to attend an international sporting event – the only other one I’ve been to was a friendly match between the England and Egypt men’s national soccer teams in London a few years ago. Two things have been very awesome: the packed stadiums for both the USA v NIG match and CAN v SUI match, and the thousands of young girls I’ve seen be SO EXCITED to watch these matches live. I started playing soccer as a 6-year-old girl; I still play keeper on a co-ed team here in Seattle.
I’ve also, unfortunately, seen some really disheartening things. For example, and this is a big one: this is called the FIFA Women’s World Cup. But the men’s one is not called the FIFA Men’s World Cup. That gets to just be called the ‘World Cup.’ In fact, if you open the FIFA app, in the main news stream you will see articles on the Women’s tournament, but if you click specifically on the “FIFA World Cup,” all you will get is information on the Men’s tournament. That necessarily just perpetuates the false idea that men in sport is neutral / default, and women in sport is something abnormal. That’s crap.
However, it should be surprising, as we know that FIFA values women in sport much less than they value men in sport. A glaringly obvious example of this is the fact that FIFA allowed these matches to be played on turf. Some places, like Seattle, have many turf fields because there is so much rain. But turf acts differently than grass. And, as evidenced by the ENG v NOR match, it also gets EXTREMELY hot. Like, there can be a 20 degree difference between the temperature in the air and the temperature down on the field when turf is involved. As others have said, in this case women are literally not on an even playing field as compared to the men.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that with this tournament, the commentator who talks the most is often a man. There is usually a woman commentating as well, but there is always ALWAYS a man. But you don’t really ever see this with men’s sports. There might be a woman on the sideline to ask a player or two “how are feeling?”, but you don’t have a woman in the booth commenting on the quarterfinal match in the men’s world cup. This isn’t just with soccer – it seems to exist with every sport that women and men both play. If it’s a women’s match, there’s always a man in the booth. If it’s a men’s match, the closest a woman gets seems to be the sideline.
Finally, when it comes down to something as basic as the FIFA app, things aren’t equal. The women’s world cup stories are in the “all news” section, but if you click on “FIFA World Cup” as a section, all that’s there is the men’s world cup. I actually emailed FIFA about that (via Facebook messenger), and they responded with the fact that the men’s U23 was going on at the same time, so they decided to not post either. Which … what? That makes zero sense. They also said they’ve “discussed this is Zurich” already for 2019. I’m a bit skeptical about this, but I’ll reserve judgement for the moment.
Are these points the end of the world? Probably not. But I think they are really great examples of the many ways that women’s sports are treated like crap pretty much worldwide. It’s the patriarchy, and it is ridiculous.
So, with that in mind, here are a few things I’m going to start doing.
If a sport has a men’s version and a women’s version, I’m going to always use that identifier, regardless of which it is. The 2018 World Cup will be the 2018 Men’s World Cup. The NBA will be the Men’s NBA (since we have the WNBA). They do it in the Olympics – why is it so hard to do with other sports?
If I have the option of watching a women’s competition live, I’m going to do it, and at least as often as I do men’s. Seattle Reign FC? I’m attending at least as many matches in person as I do Seattle Sounders. Seattle Storm? I don’t even like basketball at all, but I’m going to make it a point to attend a game this season.
I’m going to focus on reading more articles about sports by women (Jessica Luther is a FANTASTIC writer – follow her on Twitter @scATX), and books by and about women in sports.
I’m going to sign and boost every petition that comes my way pushing for equal treatment of female athletes, whether that is with prize money, practice space, media coverage,
I’d love it if you’d consider joining me. Language matters. How we view women in sport matters. I’ve got two nieces, and I really want them to know that the contributions they choose to make – whether in sport, or art, or science, or humanities – matter as much as the contributions men make.