The entire world is passionately chasing a football, our streets are teeming with the jubilant celebration of the most popular sport on the earth, tea stalls are once again alive with the everyday post match analysis, news of victory, vendetta, passion, and enthusiasm coming from Qatar. While writing this from the state of Kerala, I can literally see the vibrant crowd assembling every day in our local turf without any fail. And no wonder, you can hardly spot any female amidst that happening mob.
Recently, the newsfeed was getting flooded with headlines of Cristiano Ronaldo creating history by scoring in five World cups, after his goal in Portugal’s opening match against Ghana. But at first, most of the media presented it as the first instance. Later on, some of them were sensible enough to edit it as ‘he is the first man to do so’. Otherwise, it would have been a grave humiliation to a legendary football player namely Marta Vieira Da Silva, just because she is a woman.
The mighty Marta
Top goal scorer of any gender in a World Cup edition, with 17 goals, Second top scorer of International goals with 115 goals only second to Cristiano Ronaldo, 6 time winner of FIFA World Player of the awards including 5 in a row from 2006 to 2010, representing multiple Olympics, Copa America, Pan American Games, Marta adorned the jersey number 10 of Brazil’s National Football Team, as an unforgettable phenomena. The soccer world called her ‘Pele with Skirts’ considering her exceptional striking ability, technical skill and vision. She remains the only woman, whose footprints are eternalised in the very Hall of Fame.
‘Cry at the beginning so that you can laugh at the end.’Marta Vieira Da Silva
With a struggling childhood, Marta had multiple battles to fight before her potential was discovered by then Brazilian female coach Helena Pacheco. From Vasco Da Gama in 2000, she started her professional career, and marched as a front runner of Women’s football by representing Umea IK, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Orlando Pride, Santos etc.
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Her international career has numerous golden episodes including the Golden Ball in 2004 FIFA under 19 or the Golden Ball and Golden Boot in 2007 Women’s World Cup. UEFA Women’s Cup, 7 Swedish League Championship, Olympic medals, and being one among the six ambassadors of 2014 FIFA world cup, and to the latest of being the UN SDG Ambassador are a few of the benchmarks she created. During 2004 to 2008, while she was playing for the Swedish Club, she appeared in 103 matches scoring 210 goals in total.
‘Cry at the beginning so that you can laugh at the end,’ says Marta. It’s not a rhetoric considering her journey from the deprived grounds of Alagoas, her native state, as an offensive midfielder in her early career to an astonishing striker. For both her playmaking and striking ability she is compared to legendary football players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Pele. Within and outside the football ground, she is a born leader, consistently advocating equality and inclusiveness. Said that, yet her annual salary is less than a week’s salary of the Goats like Messi or Ronaldo.
The parallel universe of football
Is the story of Marta an isolated episode? Before FIFA, FIEFF OR Federazione Internationale Europea Football Femminile conducted the first unofficial women’s World Cup in Italy. The first official Women’s World cup was hosted by England in 1995.
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In 1994, New York hosted the Gay Football Games, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of Stonewall Riots for LGBVTQIAP+ rights. . Although, it is a universal game, football is not yet free from the barriers of racial, color, regional, and gender discrimination. Players like Birgit Prinz of Germany, Mia Hamn (US), Carli Lloyd (US) Megan Raphinoe (USA), Alexia Putellas of Spain, Nadine Angerer, the renowned German Goalkeeper, etc. are major lessons to any footballer. But still the sorry state of fame, finance and fandom of women’s football is a huge concern. In an initiative called ‘Diversity on field’ conducted by Brazil Football Ref Association, Barvarah Pah , muse of BeesCats said that ‘Football is for guys, for gays, for girls and for everyone’.
Bottlenecks: Where are we struggling?
Football is often equated with the open display of masculinity, brute physicality for which, other gender orientations are considered to be less qualified or inappropriate. Lack of media exposure, exclusionary policies, lack of female commentators, abusive team management, lack of proper infrastructure, unwillingness, social stigmas, sexism, violence, nepotism and stringent budget are some of the hurdles.
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The deep rooted patriarchal norms and gender roles gives us a myopic view of the world, football is no exception. It’s been 118 years since the inception of FIFA. As per the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap report, it will take another 132 years to close the gender gaps. Perseverant footballers of sexual identities other than that of a man, is facing stunting in their career growth due to this glass ceiling. In a survey conducted by BBC, 66% of female footballers responded that they were subjected to gender discrimination of varying degrees.
The rape allegations against male coach, Me too against male crew and support staff had been recently in news. There was an instance of the male team manager of Northern Ireland, who passed insensitive remarks on the women’s team for crying after losing against England. He didn’t hesitate to declare that women footballers have less emotional endurance.
The diversity and cosmopolitan outlook of football will nurture the very game with rich perspectives, complementary styles, etc. But in order to achieve that target, there should be a critical mass with minimum 30% representation from these identities. As per the 2015 Brighten and Helsinki Declaration, FIFA is committed to bring gender equality in different walks of the game. In 2012, England started the Game Changer Campaign to spread public awareness and to initiate a discourse around breaking the gender stereotypes in football. In 2022, around 365 million people watched UEFA women’s euro Football. UNESCO came up with the Change the Game campaign on a similar note.
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The recent example of gender parity within the US Men’s and Women’s football teams, with respect to World cup prize money is revolutionary in itself. In 2015 FIFA reform Committee, which had delegates from 171 nations addressed the matter of inclusivity as the core concern. Back then, only 8% of executive committee members were female. 2 out of the 209 Member Association Presidents were women. It came up with various action points including Gender Specific Injury Prevention Measures.
As Baudrillard mentions, the idea that media images have come to seem more ‘real’ than the reality they supposedly represent, which is known as hyper reality, the manipulated representation of gender identities and their stories becomes problematic. In order to strive towards gender justice, it’s inevitable to call out and confront misrepresentations. Football is an emotion which travels across time and space, but it should extend its hands to all gender identities alike. Unfortunately the game is currently institutionalized in a restrictive fashion. With more tolerance and higher ethical standards, it can bring joy to the nook and corner of the world.
For that the social customs, economic realities, cultural boundaries, and political consideration should keep a gender neutral world view. All human beings, irrespective of their gender identity should have ample opportunities for growth. The pedagogy should focus on nurturing these innate potential. Our galleries and grounds should become more inclusive. The stories of inspiring individuals should be told to generations without manipulations, which will keep on polishing our collective consciousness and aspirations. As said by Megan Raphinoe, ‘ we have to be better, we have to love more, hate less, we got to listen more and talk less.’