Why Is The Beautiful Game Of Football Still So Sexist?
Why Is The Beautiful Game Of Football Still So Sexist?

Football is arguably the most popular and widely influential game on planet Earth, and one that brings in stupendous amounts of money for the people actively involved. Even apart from the glamour and the profit, the game stands out for the love and bonding it generates and rightly earns the moniker of the “Beautiful Game” – people are not often left untouched by the sheer charisma of it and its players.

However, as with most things in the world, this game has sexist problems of its own. 

What does History Teach Us?

The world has been grossly unfair to women across domains, with them being often left out of educationally and financially gainful fields (like collegiate double standards examined by Virginia Woolf in “A Room Of One’s Own”) or have had the control of their life’s work snatched from them (like Rosalind Crick).

However, you find some historical names of women almost everywhere, from literature to medical science, from astronomy to fashion and beyond. Until you come to football. The list of the best footballers in history holds no female names across prominent channels such as those here, here and here. This speaks a lot about how challenged women and girls feel to participate in the game.

Is the Present same as the past?

There are several reasons why women feel unwelcome. And in this case, the present is indeed only marginally better than the past. Top footballers of today, of the ilk of Swedish Zlatan Ibrahimovic, prove why so many women shied away from playing this inspiring sport: it was because they were discouraged and objectified within its folds, told that they were inherently less worthy on the field than their male counterparts without their football ever being invested in.

Top footballers of today, of the ilk of Swedish Zlatan Ibrahimovic, prove why so many women shied away from playing this inspiring sport: it was because they were discouraged and objectified within its folds, told that they were inherently less worthy on the field than their male counterparts without their football ever being invested in.

Zlatan, for one, echoed such sentiments. Other players, with huge platforms, they could leverage to bring about positive change in almost every domain of the world, such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, have also kept quiet about this most important socio-political issue of today, sexism. Cristiano Ronaldo, considered one of the game’s best players ever, has one pending, undecided rape case against him and it says a lot about the fandom that ignored and completely bought out his match tickets anyway.

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The Fans are Sometimes the Best, but Often also the Worst!

Coming to fans, an unlikely person came out to address the sexism issue in football – of course, a woman. And I think she got the hardest time due to fans of this male-dominated game. Megan Rapinoe, Ballon d’Or 2019 winner in the female category, called out Messi, Ronaldo and the like for their appalling silence surrounding the feminist issue, given their expansive platform.

However, her mere presence on arguably the most important platform of football, as a lesbian woman, so angered some chauvinistic fans that the hate for her winning video on YouTube makes for heart-wrenching watching. Comments like, “Disclaimer don’t eat before watching”, “No skills or talent, but a woman, so she is a winner” and “Virtue-signalling rubbish” abound. 

Also read: Equal Play, Equal Pay: The Gendered Pay Gap In Indian Cricket

With such levels of support from both fans and stars, does the scant presence of women in football really elicit surprise? With women being discussed as “eye candies” in the context of the World Cup, is it a surprise that they feel unwelcome to the game? Top soccer stars and their fans want them paid less or rape them – is it a matter of wonder that they refuse to enter the game? Young girls see no representation of their sex at professional levels in football, and their male companions often taunt them in relation to their assumed lack of knowledge about the sport. Even if they still persevere, their hopes are shattered when they hear of star footballers, often their heroes, letting them down by being sexist. In spite of these, is it still amusing that more women do not enter football?


What Happens to the Women who Still Play Ball?

Some brave ladies are fiercely tenacious. They are bent on entering the sport and they do enter. What awaits them in that case? The pay gap does. Neymar Jr., widely considered one of the best football players in the world, earns the salary of roughly 1639 female players in 7 country leagues, making football’s gender pay gap worse than that in STEM. The pay difference in the FIFA World Cup for the genders is close to USD 370 million, and Lionel Messi, the world’s best paid male footballer, earns 272 times more than his female counterpart.

FIFA and some fans’ tired argument is that women’s football hardly generates the revenue the men’s game does – which is overlooking the central fallacy that women have never been encouraged to play the game at all, and necessary marketing therefore has never arrived. It is not as if they cannot play ball, because they can – they were just harassed out of its periphery. Now when they have broken their shackles, men will come after them blaming them for not earning the money men didn’t let them earn, due to aforementioned reasons, heralding the toxic cause-effect reversal cycle we see in most domains of society where women lack recognition. 

If you have to burn and die to watch the game, it makes sense that you will be hesitant to play it – does it not? Why should you be blamed for what wasn’t your fault at all, the patriarchal norms and power structures? If you power through those, you should be lauded – why are women threatened, harassed and question as they are setting out for the field instead?

On a Personal Note

As someone enamored with the truly ‘Beautiful Game’, I understand on a deeply personal note how toxic the sexism in football is. As someone who has most of her life’s heroes from players of this game, it is miserable how many factors will stop me from even imagining myself in Lionel Messi’s shoes, who I love with my whole heart. I understand how problematic in real life those factors are, when even a vocal feminist like myself had to press down on all her emotions to write a word against Cristiano Ronaldo – it makes me shudder to think that as non-women or non-minorities, how many more fans wouldn’t do so as they have no stakes involved. How they may even make fun of the female victim, and other females coming out with their stories in real life.

Also read: Watch: The Team Without A Nation – The Tibetan Women’s Football Team

Much stands to be lost if these problems aren’t solved. Away from critical issues like these, football is remembered for the joy and bonding it brings, the magical and ruthless precision its execution takes and the role models who defeat all sorts of odds from abject poverty to semi-lethal diseases to become some of the richest people in the world. They help one think that even with a hundredth of the willpower as them, some ordinary fan someday somewhere may win her own life’s battles. It is this that we must remember as we try to purify the magic-sprinkled game into something more laden with happiness, inclusivity and motivation.

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