By now we’re all familiar with the incredible success of the US Women’s National Soccer Team at the recent Women’s World Cup held this summer in Canada. The US Women won their third championship, and also set records for ratings at home on TV (yet their pay compared to the losing Men’s National Team in the Men’s World Cup in 2014 is shockingly low).
Since the event overall, and the US team’s win, it has ignited the passion for women’s sport in general, and we think society is starting to see there should be NO disparity between the two genders when it comes to coverage, pay and merit. This year will also see tennis champ Serena Williams, who we unapologetically called the greatest athlete in the world, make history if she surpasses Steffi Graf’s record of 22 major titles by winning the US Open. Because of this, for the first time in history the women’s final has sold out faster than the men’s! It is being dubbed the “Serena effect” but we think it is much more than that.
Oh and let’s not forget the dominance of UFC champ Ronda Rousey who is yet to find a competitor on her level that can last longer than a minute in the ring. It certainly has been the year of female dominance in sport and more than anything it shows gender is no longer a factor in what makes entertaining sport.
We know the USWNT, Serena and Ronda are all American, but this is not just happening here at home. We are seeing a huge push for women’s sports in the mainstream such as the UK, another big sporting nation. Earlier this year women’s rowing got a major boost when, for the first time, the women’s rowing teams competed on the men’s course for the big BNY Mellon University race between Oxford and Cambridge.
It was also the first time the women’s event was given major broadcast coverage and equal funding. That is a huge step forward!
Although they didn’t the World Cup this year, Britain’s nation soccer team the Lionesses took home the bronze medal after defeating Germany in the third place playoff in Edmonton. They came home heroes and have also become part of the collective conversation about women in sport in the UK.
Not long after their return and subsequent media frenzy, a major milestone was made for women’s soccer. For the first time ever, the FA Cup Final was played at the hallowed Wembley Stadium, the place where many historic men’s finals have been played. August 1st saw the women of Chelsea and Notts County hit the same turf a mere four years after women started campaigning to play there.
The final saw over 30,000 attendees which is not a sell-out by any means, but in previous finals held in smaller cities which struggled to get even half that amount of ticket sales, this match proved fans just want to see entertaining soccer, and that includes the women!
“The attendance of 30,710 set a new competition high and there was an unmistakable sense of positivity about the progress that is being made in the present and optimism for what the future holds for the women’s game. Those who were there witnessed history,” wrote Jacob Steinberg at the Guardian.
In an interview with The Standard after their World Cup journey, four of the lionesses (who also all happened to play in the FA Cup Final with their respective league teams) talked about their elevated status as role models for younger girls in the UK and how it is important people pay attention to women’s sport as well as men’s.
Striker Eniola Aluko and teammates Laura Bassett, Ellen White and Katie Chapman spoke about playing for the national team and how their elevated presence comes with responsibility.
“As players, we have to make our spectacle the best it can be. We’re role models now. For me growing up, there weren’t many role models,” said Laura Bassett.
“We need to be more vocal with parents that girls’ teams are available,” added Ellen White.
One of the most common problems with females in professional sports is that they often have other careers to fall back on because their sport doesn’t pay as much as it does the men in order for them to dedicate 100% of their time to competing and training.
Nigerian-born Eniola Aluko has a law degree and worked for a firm whose clients included One Direction and David Beckham. How ironic that one of the country’s biggest female soccer stars has to have a day job working for a company that looks after the country’s biggest male soccer star…
And speaking of David Beckham, the girls say the film ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ from 2002 starring Keira Knightley, Parminder Nagra and Johnathan Rhys Meyers centered around two young British girls who had dreams of playing professional soccer like their hero, was a huge help in bringing women’s soccer into the mainstream in the UK.
“I was definitely inspired by it. Lots of boys in my school enjoyed watching it, too, and thought: ‘Oh, girls aren’t too bad at football!'” said Eniola.
“I think maybe male perceptions change when they have daughters — you want the best opportunities for them,” said Laura Bassett who added the men she used to play with still send her messages of encouragement.
And as for the pay inequality issue, the girls say one of the biggest factors to rectifying this is having women’s soccer broadcast on a major network, like the men’s leagues.
“BT Sport is the main broadcaster for women’s football. None of that money is necessarily distributed to the clubs, which makes the gap between the lesser clubs and the better clubs with more money a lot bigger. There are men’s teams that wouldn’t be able to exist without TV money. Women’s teams should have that support network. We’re the product on the pitch,” said Eniola.
“We just want whoever is in charge of FIFA to have women’s football at the forefront — and be supportive of that, that’s our priority,” added Ellen.
One of the main arguments they have for getting women’s soccer into more households is that there are less dirty tactics, less egos and less diving. Essentially, it is more “family friendly” as you aren’t about to see swearing and offensive chants happening at a match which can be common at men’s matches.
“I think we just get on with it. We want to get up, keep playing. We don’t want anything to ruin our game; we don’t want controversy. We want our football to do the talking,” said Ellen.
While the women are embroiled in a political storm which is sadly preventing them from playing at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics (one of the biggest platforms for any athlete that can have a major effect on their earning potential) most of all they want to be positive role models for others girls aspiring to be pro athletes.
“For me, that’s the best thing really: to be an ambassador for the sport. Now we’ve got to try to push it on and make sure that in five, ten years’ time a girl who’s coming up playing football, who’s very good at it, can look at it as a career path. It could be a lot easier for young girls — and we’re responsible for this. We’re the trailblazers for the game,” concluded Eniola.
These women and many others in a range of different sports are game changers, literally. The more it becomes about talent and merit, and less about gender and stereotypes, the easier it will be for broadcasters, sponsors and fans alike to see women’s sporting events on par with men’s.