Thanks in part to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, doors have opened around the world for fantastic social changes involving girls and women in sports. However, there are still major gaps that need to be acknowledged, from funding discrepancies to career advancement opportunities. We recognize the challenges that girls and women still face on and off the field with the hope it will foster positive developments that lead to equity in Canada and globally. The opinions below take into account the tremendous progress that has occurred over the past decades.
The FIFA Fair Play Award is a FIFA recognition of good or sporting behaviour or other actions by people or bodies involved in association football around the world.
Sportsmanship (or sometimes sportspersonship) is an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one’s competitors.
Sportsmanship can be conceptualized as an enduring and relatively stable characteristic or disposition such that individuals differ in the way they are generally expected to behave in sport situations. In general, sportsmanship refers to virtues such as fairness, self-control, courage, and persistence and has been associated with interpersonal concepts of treating others and being treated fairly, maintaining self-control if dealing with others, and respect for both authority and opponents.
In Canada, 47% of all registered players are female. The women’s national team has been very successful and has qualified for the last nine World Cups and won an Olympic gold medal and two bronze medals. Yet, on average, women account for fewer than 1% of members on national and provincial soccer associations across Canada. Women also account for fewer than 1% of professional coaches in clubs and provincial, national and semi-professional teams.
And then there’s the issue of money. Players on the Canadian women’s national team have spent years fighting for adequate funding. Despite being much more successful than the men’s national team, they are estimated to receive less than 10% of the national team budget. (The situation has improved somewhat of late. Still, top players have to pay to play on provincial and high-performance teams during their development. Semi-professional players are not earning wages, yet are asked to do appearances for brands that pay millions in sponsorship dollars. In addition, girls and women make up 47% of registered soccer players in this country, meaning they are paying 47% of the wages of the male decision-makers who are excluding them from adequate funding, equal playing opportunities and business or career initiatives. Major corporations and professional clubs are using girls and women to create a family-value package for their marketing initiatives to benefit their organization with barely any financial benefits directly going to girls and women.
A major corporation sponsors a professional soccer club or national program and pays the club millions of dollars to be included in their marketing promotions. The promotions include girls and boys playing soccer to inspire a happy, family atmosphere where the professional club appears to be promoting girls’ soccer. Yet that club’s women’s soccer team receives very limited funding. The women are expected to attend appearances and do coaching clinics to promote the corporation and the soccer club, but don’t receive money from the club or sponsors for their participation in the marketing plan. Meanwhile, the club — and in particular the men’s team — receives 100% of the benefits.
Lack of support
Some countries won’t support girls and women who want to engage in physically active sports like soccer because they’re perceived as “male” sports. In some cultures, girls are forbidden to show their arms, legs or face. Many girls who choose to take part anyway are verbally and physically abused for participating.
Ridicule or bullying can include being told they are manly, homosexual, undesirable, unattractive or troubled for wanting to play. They can be criticized for their abilities or skills compared to boys, and left with the feeling of being inadequate.
Often girls and women are given undesirable playing times, fields, equipment and funding since their participation is considered unimportant” or is not viewed as commercially viable.
Example: The 2011 World Cup champion Japanese women’s national team sat in the coach section of their aircraft from Tokyo to Paris for the 2012 Summer Olympics, while the men’s team travelled in business class.
Fear of speaking out
Players and their families can be afraid to voice their needs — or to seek justice — due to the possibility they could lose their place on their team, lose playing time, or be isolated within the group. This is especially true for high-level players, where their entire career on a professional or national team can be jeopardized.
Other women are afraid to lose their spot on the executive team or within an organization. They can also become very protective of their positions and power, especially with like-minded compatriots, and not end up serving the women they originally intended to help. Some of them may have been put in those positions by male decision-makers precisely because they’re unlikely to fight for radical changes or equity.
Others still are so used to the status quo, or so tired of fighting injustices, that they accept the mediocre. They can’t imagine a better world for themselves and other women. Change seems impossible.
Women Helping Women
Women can sometimes create their own challenges by magnifying personal issues and participating in subtle bullying tactics to demean other women who are striving to improve their lives. The more women work and cooperate with each other to share their successes and inspirations, the more productive, safe and happy women will be working towards a mutual transformation.
Leading the way
A number of countries, including the United States and Germany, have excellent programs to give girls and women of all ages the chance to play in organized soccer leagues at all levels. Most countries are still developing the resources needed to do the same, since almost all funding goes to boys and men’s programs, despite the millions of dollars invested in soccer. The U.S. also leads the world in offering scholarship programs for women to continue their pursuit in athletics and education. The National Women’s Soccer League is considered the best league in the world and is a model for other nations in the future.
By the Numbers
- Women account for two thirds of the 1.4 billion people currently living in extreme poverty.
- Women make up 64% of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world. Globally, 77% of women are literate, compared with 87% of men.
- Across the globe, 70% of the world’s poor are women, women earn less than 10% of the world’s wages — and yet women do more than two-thirds of the world’s work.
- On average, women reinvest 90% of their income into their families while men invest only 30-40%.