Gender, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

Women’s Soccer Coming to the Fore

Inaki Borda

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2011 (IPS) - This time last year the entire world gathered in front of TV screens to watch the World Cup. According to International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) estimates, 3,178,856 people made their way to South Africa, and around the globe 700 million viewers watched the Spanish victory in the final match.

Next Sunday another World Cup will take place. It will be held in Germany, but it will be a little different: women will play this time.

The Sixth FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will continue until Jul. 17, certainly is not as well known as its male counterpart. Will it ever be?

According to Petra Krimphove, journalist and author of the book ‘Mother-Daughter-Relationships in the U.S. American Literature’, the peak moment of women’s soccer happened on Jul. 10, 1999, at the Rose Bowl Field in Pasadena, California. Spectators numbering 90,185 went to the stadium that day, and 40 million people celebrated the victory of U.S women’s soccer team on TV screens.

However, for Krimphove, from that moment on no excitement for women’s soccer has been felt in U.S. media – even though the U.S. women’s national team went on to win two World Cups and three Olympic gold medals.

The Women’s Professional League, draws a number of viewers “too low to achieve any noteworthy income via television rights and sponsors,” Krimphove says.

Some attribute this lack of interest to scarce media coverage. If media do not focus attention on an event, the chances of it going unnoticed rise, they say.

Believing that the World Cup has never received the media coverage that it deserved, this time FIFA wants to make sure the event does not go unnoticed. “We have never seen coverage on a scale like this before in women’s football. It shows our commitment towards improving the media production of the world’s premier women’s soccer competition,” said Niclas Ericson, Director of FIFA TV.

Steffi Jones, president of the local organising committee (LOC) of the German Football Association, said Thursday that with 10 days still to go until the opening match, “We’re well on course to meet our target of filling the stadiums to 80 percent of capacity.”

Ticket orders have been received from 50 countries, according to Jones, who alluded to the “huge” international appeal that the tournament is developing.

However, even if women’s soccer is now gaining a media presence, there is still a long way to go. According to Daniela Schaaf, communications expert at the German Sports University in Cologne, people have not yet accepted the fact that women can play sports that have traditionally fallen within the men’s sphere. “People still don’t like to see women playing a men’s game,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf, who has studied the importance of women’s soccer in Germany for years, stated that women are still insulted, and victims of sexual discrimination and prejudice. If we look closely at the data, though, we see that there are more women’s teams and more women involved in sports than in the past. However, the numbers still lag way behind those of men.

Almost 40 years after Title IX – a law that applies to any educational programme to be fair and equitable to women – was passed in the U.S., it is estimated that 80 percent of colleges and universities are still not in compliance, Shawn Ladda, former president of the National Association for Girls and Women in Sports, told IPS.

A study carried out in 2010 by Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter, professors emeritus at Brooklyn College, however, indicates that despite the 20 percent non-compliance with Title IX, numbers have remarkably increased since 1972. In the last 12 years from 1998 to 2010, 2,741 new women’s teams have been created.

Ladda considers that one of the major reasons why girls do not get as much attention as deserved is poor media coverage. Apart from big events like the Women’s World Cup, the coverage of “daily” women’s sports is far from adequate.

“Women still do not receive the same sports coverage as men because our society or culture values men more as athletes than women. There are also more men who are in positions of power that make decisions on what is important in the media,” Ladda explained. That is, according to her, the burden women still carry.

For Matthew Johnson, director of education at the Media Awareness Network headquartered in Ottawa, the main reason why women’s sports are not at the forefront of media coverage is the presumption that men are more interested in sports than women, and that men are more unlikely to follow women’s sports.

This is a “circular argument,” Johnson told IPS. “It leads to less coverage of women’s sports and therefore less opportunity for women to become interested in sports, or for men to become interested in women’s sports.”

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