The Women’s World Cup has been more than a display of incredible sporting talent - it’s been a political movement. Players and fans have both stood in solidarity against sexism in the sport, but the latest events make us wonder if FIFA is listening…
This year’s Women’s Football World Cup has seen viewing figures soar, with 4.6 million viewers tuning into watch the England v Scotland game on BBC One and the standard of play higher than ever. And if that wasn’t enough of a show of female strength, then the ongoing battle for equal pay and fair representation that is happening alongside the matches should be.
Despite the powerful sporting and protesting, the carelessness shown by governing body FIFA with the tournament has raised questions about its progressiveness. It’s messed up official ticket sale figures more than once, allocated seats to children far away from parents so had to reissue thousands of tickets for following matches, and FIFA’s low ticket prices have been blamed for undervaluing the sport. All in all, it feels like a bit of sloppy job for a professional sporting event showcasing players who are the top of their game.
But one issue bigger than seating charts is the systemic sexism within the game – and the similarly lackluster interest FIFA has shown towards it.
For 40 years women haven’t been allowed to watch football in Iran as they’re banned from entering sports stadiums. FIFA has been working with the country to lift the ban for several years, but no change has yet been made.
The Women’s World Cup has drawn nothing but attention to this discrimination, and the latest news about the treatment of two women based on their T-shirts has exposed deep inequality.
When the two Iranian women turned up to watch the New Zealand v Canada match in Grenoble wearing tops that read “Let Iranian women enter their stadiums” on the front and “No to forced hijab” and “Girls of revolution street” on the back, they were removed from the stadium by officials.
The reason given for the removal was that gender equality is a political issue, and commentary or protesting of those are banned at football matches. While we see how the legalisation of women at sporting matches may be a matter of policy, the wider issue of gender equality within sport is so much more than politics. It’s about society, economy, culture, employment, and every other aspect of our lives.
FIFA realised its mistake and have since apologised, issuing a statement saying that it “believes that the message to allow women into football stadiums in Iran is a social, not political, matter and so the message on the front of the T-shirts worn by two fans is not against FIFA rules, which always need to be applied with a sense of proportion”.
It added: “Fifa will do its best to ensure that any similar situations do not occur at future matches during the competition.”
We’re of course glad that they realised their mistake, and we’re hopeful that we won’t be seeing this kind of mess up again. But that doesn’t detract from the continuous hurdles faced by the players and fans of women’s football to simply play, watch and support their teams.
Until our games are seen politically, socially, economically, culturally and professionally at the same level as men’s, we won’t have won.