Barcelona FC has since tried to explain its decision to seat the women separately – but given the consistent devaluing of women’s sport, it’s no surprise people are outraged.
Occasionally, a news story comes along that’s so on the nose you almost can’t believe it; one that encapsulates everything infuriating about a particular issue to the extent that it’s borderline laughable. “Really?” you think to yourself. “If that was a plot device in a novel, I’d dismiss it as too contrived.”
One such story emerged this week, when it was revealed that the Barcelona women’s football team was forced to sit in economy on a recent flight to the US, while the men’s squad travelled in business class. That’s right: while the men were chilling out at the front of the plane, enjoying their extra leg room and whatever else it is you get in business class (champagne? Massages? Canapes made by blind Belgian nuns?), the women were stuck at the back with the rest of the ordinary people.
Understandably, this revelation made many football fans feel pretty hacked off.
The story is made more galling by the fact that FC Barcelona made a big deal out of its men’s and women’s teams travelling together. In a statement, the women’s presence on the pre-season tour to the US was described as fitting “with the club’s strategic commitment to women’s sport”.
As fan account @BarcaWomen pointed out, the club posted several photos of the men’s and women’s teams boarding the plane together – but failed to mention that they’d be segregated once in the air.
Barcelona FC has since responded to the criticism, saying it was only confirmed at the last minute that the women’s team would be appearing on the tour, and there wasn’t any room for them in business class as a result. The club also said that each member of the women’s squad was given three seats so they could travel comfortably.
Of course, travelling in economy isn’t the world’s most gruelling challenge: for the vast majority of people, it’s the only way we’ll ever fly. But as with so many things in life, it’s all about context.
Women’s sport, particularly football, has been devalued and presented as less important than men’s for – well, forever. Until this year, the women’s FA Cup final had never been aired live by the BBC (the first televised men’s FA Cup final, in contrast, took place in 1938, 80 years earlier). And the gap between male and female football players’ salaries remains jaw-dropping. Top earners in the Women’s Super League make around £35,000 a year, while many Premier League footballers take home upwards of £100,000 a week.
In addition, women’s participation in football – whether as players, commentators or pundits – is often mocked and disparaged by male fans of the game. All told, it’s not surprising that so many people interpreted the Barcelona plane story as yet another example of female athletes being treated with less respect than their male counterparts.
Luckily, though, it looks like the powers that be at Barcelona FC have learned their lesson. According to Spanish sports newspaper Mundo Deportivo, both teams will travel in business class for the next leg of the tour. We hope the women order champagne.
Main image: Barcelona FC