If women’s football continues to grow, since the 1990s to date, the challenges women must face in this sector are still numerous.
The first and most important hurdle is the cultural barriers this sport still experiences today and make us all ask ourselves whether it is possible in the modern day, when there is so much talk of mental openness and emancipation, to hear expressions such as “football is not a sport for women” or “women shouldn’t talk about football.” Who made that decision?
But how is women’s football perceived today around the globe?
In FIFA’s 2014 study, space was dedicated to this question, and the answers varied wildly. What is certain is that 36% of participants in the survey stated they see women’s football as a great platform for international participation, while 31% see it as a hard-fought sport, which is not suitable for women. Only a few see it as a quality sport (13%) or as an important area for investment (5%).
It is, therefore, clear that women’s football has still not overcome the prejudices that have always accompanied it, and from the results of the FIFA Survey, this is true above all in AFC and CONMEBOL.
But this vision of the relationship between “women and football” will change in these places, starting with Asia, where recently a very important chapter in women’s football was written, a chapter which opened in Hong Kong in 2016 and bears the name of Chan Yuen Ting, the 27-year old female coach of Eastern, who, in the 2015/2016 season, earned the title of the first female coach to lead a men’s team to victory in a major championship.
Chan is an isolated case, but we must admit this is because worldwide women rarely have the chance to manage high-level football teams. In addition, girls are not given the same opportunities to play the sport as are given to boys: In an interview, Chan confessed she had joined the football academy by falsifying her parents’ signature as they did not want her to follow a sport unsuitable for girls.
But how did we reach a perception of football where a girl is not free to choose what sport to play?
We have tried to provide a simple framework in the following “women’s football pyramid”:
At the bottom of the pyramid, we find one of the most important factors, the fact that women’s football (and more besides) is largely governed by men, a factor that determines the development of women’s football more than it should, and it is men that unfortunately offer the greatest resistance to the development of women’s football, and this ensures there is less concern within the federations for its development internationally.
This first factor is then directly connected to the next two above it in the pyramid: the almost total absence of departments connected directly to women’s football and the almost total absence of women on the executive committees of the football business worldwide.
The FIFA Women’s Football Survey of 2014 highlighted, while 80% of the member countries that participated in the survey have a Committee for Women’s football, only 32% have a real Department addressing the issue from all angles, a factor that could facilitate and accelerate the development of this sport.
Regarding women on executive committees, the FIFA Survey revealed only 188 women have senior positions in world football, an average of 1 woman for each federation, showing how difficult it is for women to find key positions in the football world.
Therefore, with a limited number of people dealing with the growth of women’s football worldwide, it is difficult for them to reach agreements with the key media to publish news, show games on TV, or sponsor and publicise women’s football as happens for the men’s game.
And it is obvious that, with such limited visibility, few follow this sport, which leads to small crowds at women’s games, a consequent lowering of the spectacle on offer and less desire by the media to dedicate their energies to it.
SOME FIGURES ON THE MEDIA COVERAGE OF WOMEN’S FOOTBALL
In 92% of the FIFA member countries, there is at least one media platform that deals with the promotion of women’s football. The most commonly used means of communication is the press, which is preferred in 80% of the FIFA countries to radio and TV (used respectively in only 54% and 59% of the countries).
Also, social media and digital platforms are above radio and television, with 62% of countries using them to promote women’s football, a fact that highlights the great importance that digital is acquiring in the dissemination of information globally.
As for television – which for the men’s game has no rivals in terms of broadcasting games – it is surprising that only one quarter of member countries have an agreement with a TV channel to show women’s football events.
And so, while we all continue – irrespective of age and gender– to be bombarded by images, news, and videos about the game played by men – which convince us even more this sport is not for women – women’s football continues to be considered a niche product and of little importance in almost all the globe.
All these factors lead most people to look at women’s football as a sport with no monetary aspect, and consequently the federations, the media, and the sponsors, since they do not consider it a good long-term investment, are more inclined to invest elsewhere.
We should all open our eyes and ask whether women’s football is incapable of becoming a successful phenomenon like the men’s game and whether it is not worth the trouble to give girls, just as we do boys, the hope of making playing the game their life goal.
In reality, the problem is that, when a project is so uncertain and risky – such as the project to develop women’s football – it never makes economic sense to take up the challenge and risk because it is, without doubt, easier to invest in a certainty.
But history also teaches us the greatest successes started with someone who risked something to follow a dream. And so, why not try to invest more in women’s football to give greater hope to the realization of girls’ dreams and to seek greater visibility for the dissemination of this phenomenon to then reap the fruits a few years down the line?