Sexism in Football: A Myth or Reality? 

The Lionesses’ match against the defending world champions, the USA, drew the highest attendance of any England game at Wembley, with 76,893 sales. Tickets for the game went on sale two days after England defeated Germany in the Euro final, selling out in less than 24 hours. As a result of the extraordinary demand, the Football Association’s website crashed, and supporters were forced to wait in online queues of more than 50,000. 

 It comes after a crowd of 87,192 – the biggest ever attendance for a European Championship match, for men’s, or women’s – saw the Lionesses beat Germany 2-1 after extra time at Wembley, as England’s women’s team secured its first major trophy. Roaring through the UEFA Women’s Euro Tournament, the Lionesses won all their matches. Their extraordinary wins have certainly reignited passion for English national football after the men’s team’s heart-breaking penalty loss against Italy last summer.

Since England last hosted the tournament in 2005, the situation has altered, with the competition entering the mainstream public consciousness on a far wider scale. In 2005, only eight teams were competing in the Women’s Euros, and several of the matches failed to draw even 1000 spectators.

Along with this disregard for the competition, overt sexism and objectification of athletes were evident even from the highest levels of the football pyramid. For example, UEFA President Lennart Johansson said that ticket sellers could use “sweaty, lovely looking girls on the ground, with the rainy weather” to sell tickets. This was shortly after the same FIFA president advised that the players’ wearing ‘more feminine clothes’ like tighter shorts to promote a ‘more female aesthetic’ may improve the appeal of women’s football. Unquestionably, the tournament today is much more respected, as seen by the surging ticket sales as well as the growing media coverage, which has moved from BBC2 to BBC1.

But sexism still exists despite full stadiums and rising support for the England squad. According to England’s right-back Lucy Bronze, who is a female football player, she and other team members ‘expect sexist abuse on a near daily basis’ and as it has become an ‘inescapable part of the game’, since two-thirds of women in football have encountered it.

Under the hashtag #notherproblem, a campaign from EE, Bronze has been launched to combat online sexism. Other prominent football figures involved in the campaign include Gareth Southgate, manager of the England men’s team. Southgate states ‘men can do better’, hoping that the campaign will highlight the special role men can play in ending sexism and misogyny by both monitoring their behaviour and calling out others.

Another obvious issue women have to deal with in not just football, but sports globally, is the fight for equal pay. It is one of the most shocking and humiliating issues within the business of sport and the stark difference in women vs. men salaries. Women who play club sports make about £16k a year. A male equivalent, like Wayne Rooney, made an astounding £300k per week, or around £1,786 per hour. Consequently, it takes him around 29 hours to make what a female football player makes in a year. This is not even mentioning the ridiculous multi-million-dollar brand endorsement agreements that the more legendary male footballers have scored. According to a comment from Rachel Yankey of Arsenal, she states: “to have a decent standard of living they all have second jobs.”

When we turn our attention to how the male-dominated segment of the community feels about women playing football, the dark side of football is further highlighted. In 2006, a Luton Town FC coach, Mike Newell, verbally attacked Amy Rayner, the assistant referee, and insisted she shouldn’t be there. He said: “she shouldn’t be here. I know that sounds sexist, but I am sexist. This is not park football, so what are women doing here?” Another official, Paul Jewell, the then Ipswich Town boss, targeted a female official with his rage, after not being awarded a penalty, stating: “I think to every man it was a penalty. Unfortunately to every man, but not a woman.”

But for now, we must recognise both significant and little victories. Whatever the results of their future endeavours, the Lionesses have accomplished a great deal, not just in terms of their stadium performances but also in terms of altering public perceptions of sports in general. Undoubtedly, the 2023 world cup will influence culture, inspiring not just a new generation of players but also a new generation of supporters who value and appreciate women’s football.

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University of Leicester's Student Magazine

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BA Journalism at University of Leicester

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