FIFA World Cup and the Importance of Female Athletes 

The FIFA World Cup is upon us, but ask the average sports fan, or really anyone watching tv and they probably will be surprised to learn that there is a World Cup this year. In the past, the months leading up to the World Cup saw endless advertisements and media coverage. Soccer fans from all over the world joined together to support their teams. Even people who never  watch soccer got into the spirit. But this year, the media have barely reported on it. Why the lack of coverage? The answer lies in the fact that this year’s World Cup is only being played by female players. In almost every sport, female athletes continuously get less attention than their male counterparts. A few media sources are starting to take note of this issue, while many are continuing to ignore it.

Is soccer becoming a feminist issue? Maggie Mertens, writer for The Atlantic, thinks so. In her article, in which she explores why soccer is a gender issue, Mertens expresses her frustration with how little attention female athletes get from mainstream media. She notes how last year’s World Cup in Brazil was held at brand-new stadiums and attended by 40,000 soccer fans. A lottery was held to purchase tickets and there was media coverage for months leading up to the games. This year, however, there was no lottery. Tickets were half the cost of last year’s. Many of the games this year are being played in stadiums, which hold up to 10,000 seats and the reporting is next to none.

Much of the reason why women’s sports go unwatched has nothing to do with their performance, but surprisingly the way they are filmed. As Purdue Associate Professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality, Cheryl Cooky explains, “Men’s sports are going to seem more exciting. They have higher production values, higher-quality coverage and higher-quality commentary…When you watch women’s sports, and there are fewer camera angles, fewer cuts to shot, fewer instant replays, yeah, it’s going to seem to be a slower game, [and] it’s going to seem to be less exciting.”

Though some will argue men are just more exciting to watch, other can say that women bring their own talents to the field. Whereas men will use a small shove to fake an injury, slowing the game for several minutes, women don’t use fake injuries to slow the game down. According to a 2011 study by Martin Lames, sports scientist at Technische Universitaet Muenchen, women fake injuries half as much as men do. When and if they do fall, they are back on their feet 30 seconds faster than the men. “For men, the thought of staging themselves is much more pronounced than for women, where the game itself is obviously paramount…Putting on a show, play-acting and protesting are more typical of men. The reason for this could be that men’s football generally pulls in more spectators and receives greater media coverage.” Last year, ESPN’s SportsCenter only covered women’s sports 2 percent of the time.

Just last October, 84 top international players including USA’s Abby Wambach, Marta Viera de Silva from Brazil and German Nadine Angerer, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Canadian Soccer Association and FIFA. The cause? This year’s World Cup in Canada would be played on artificial turf, rather than natural grass, a more superior playing surface. The past six women’s World Cups and all of the previous 20 men’s had been played on grass. Not only was this a necessary move, but a dangerous one. Artificial turf increases player injury due to increased friction and decreased shock absorption. Turf can cause injuries that could end careers, such as torn ACLS, concussions and knee injuries or even injuries specific to that material, such as burns. By standing up against gender discrimination, this was a major step forward for female athletes.

What is getting media coverage at the moment is the indictment of 14 FIFA officials on corruption charges, followed by the resignation of FIFA president, Sepp Blatter this past Tuesday. Blatter has come under fire in the past for many of his comments. When asked how to improve the popularity of women’s soccer, he has said, “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty if you excuse me for saying so.” Blatter’s bigotry doesn’t stop there. He has claimed that there is no racism in football and publicly advised gay fans to “refrain” at the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Even when the story is negative, a white cis male gets the spotlight. Meanwhile, star athletes like Marta Viera de Silva, who just scored her 15th World Cup goal, gets no recognition, even in the main Brazilian newspaper, O Globo.

For many young women, female athletes serve as role models. By celebrating great women athletes, the media can show young women that females can kick a ball too. As Cooky says, “There’s still this cultural investment in the idea that sport is this space wherein talent and hard work is what matters, and things like race, gender and sexual orientation don’t.”

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India Rose Kushner

A writer, journalist, poet and feminist.

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