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Since June 7, 2019, televisions, radios and mobile phones around the world have been tuned in to the Women’s World Cup. And while the play on the field has amazed, inspired and delighted us, the Women’s World Cup has also provided an opportunity for social transformation. Players are speaking out against gender discrimination in soccer, using the tournament as a platform to draw attention to the issues through online campaigns, lawsuits, marketing materials, and staging boycotts.

  • Pay Inequity – Leading up to and during the World Cup, players have been vocal about salary discrepancies between women’s and men’s teams (check out this infographic). National teams in Norway, Canada and United States demanded changes from their respective sport governing bodies.
  • Misconceptions – Common rebukes to persisting financial disparities depend on false assumptions about the level of interest in women’s soccer – “more people watch the men play” or “more people buy tickets and merchandise for the men’s team.” However, the Women’s World Cup has witnessed an increase in viewership and attendance over the past years. In 2015, more than 750 million viewers around the world watched the Women’s World Cup. This includes 20.8 million unique Canadian viewers – or nearly 60% of the country’s population. In the U.S., the final match of the 2015 tournament, between USA and Japan, was the most watched soccer match – for both men’s and women’s soccer – in US history. France 2019 is predicted to be a tipping point for women’s soccer.
  • Respect – Norwegian superstar Ada Hegerberg, the first recipient of the Ballon D’dor Féminin for the best female player in the world, chose to boycott the World Cup based on the lack of respect and poor behaviour directed at female soccer players in her home country and internationally. National teams from Argentina and Germany created ad campaigns designed to increase awareness about the lack of recognition and market their athletic excellence.
  • Participation opportunities – At a more fundamental level, Shireen Ahmed wrote a piece for Time remarking on the fact that many women around the world continue to face severe challenges when attempting to play the game of soccer. During Russia 2018, Iranian women staged artistic protests during games, drawing attention to the fact that women continue to be prohibited in soccer stadiums in their home country.

These examples represent the tenacity of players to participate in and contest the realm of sport. As spectators, we also need to consider how we can both enjoy the spectacle of the sport and use it as a platform for social transformation. The following tips provide some suggestions for action:

  1. Follow the Game – Whether it’s soccer or another sport, follow the game, get to know the players, and share your passion with others to increase interest and respect for the game. Female athletes are role models for everyone.
  2. Be Informed – Be curious about the issues raised by players. Seek out informed news sources, and follow key influencers (e.g. @moyadodd) and female-produced sport media (e.g. The Gist, Women Sport Trust, Burn It All Down). Share online information through likes, retweets and shares to increase awareness of the issues.
  3. Change the Conversation – When the topic of women and sport arises, use the opportunity to challenge typical narratives can change attitudes and beliefs. Share your experiences and learnings to illuminate the persisting myths about women who participate in sport.

Embracing social issues in sport will ultimately improve the sport system for all players. Let’s celebrate and support players to be able to participate equitably in sports.

Recommended Resources

Check out these other sources for athlete-centred insight on social issues:

  • The Players’ Tribune publishes first-person stories from athletes, providing unique insight into the daily sports conversation.
  • The Undefeated is a platform for exploring the intersections of race, sports and culture, featuring “innovative storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary.”
  • Uninterrupted, founded by LeBron James and business partner Maverick Carter, explores key challenges as told by the athletes themselves.

About the Author(s)

Sabrina Razack is an educator, certified coach, and PhD student at the University of Toronto. She was the Manger of Community Outreach for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee and is involved in numerous community-based initiatives including the Canadian Sport Film Festival and Canadian Tire Jumpstart. Sabrina currently lives in the Durham region with her husband and two fabulous children. Check out Sabrina’s Beyond a Boundary platform, which provides teaching resources for educators, parents and organizations to provide diverse perspectives and understandings of the world.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.