Exchange to Change | September 2015 - Page 9

Time to reflect on gender issues in sport That sport is a global matter with the potential to connect people worldwide has again been proven by the fact that newspapers from all over the world were packed with articles on the FIFA corruption and bribery scandals under the regime of Sepp Blatter. However, relatively little attention has been paid to the 7th edition of the Women’s World Cup which took place in June and July and was hosted by Canada, the only country that applied to host the event. While the results of some matches demonstrate that women’s soccer is far from boring, it does not seem to have succeeded in stirring emotions in the same way as the previous men’s World Cup in Brazil. Therefore, the Exchange to Change team seizes this opportunity to pay some attention to the event and reflect on gender issues in sport more generally. The first and most obvious gender issue related to sport concerns participation in sport activities. While the proportion of men taking part in sport has historically been larger than the proportion of women, participation of girls and women in most sport disciplines has been steadily increasing in most countries. Nevertheless, the process of reducing the barriers to professional female participation in sport has been rather slow in many sport disciplines. This is partly due to the lack of Olympic recognition of some sports which are popular with women such as netball. In addition, for some sports such as field hockey and boxing there were great delays1 in recognizing the female counterpart at the Olympics. Similarly, some major sport events2, for instance the Tour de France3, still do not have a corresponding female competition in place. Furthermore, some historical bans such as the one on playing soccer with head scarves4 have only recently been lifted by the imposing organisations. However, if we consider gender issues we must also acknowledge that there are still two sports which do not have male competition at the Olympics, namely synchronised swimming and rhythmic gymnastics. In sum, it seems that gender stereotypes still determine to 1 Field hockey (men: 1908 vs. women: 1980) and boxing (men: 1968 vs. women: 2012). 2 The first official women’s soccer World Cup was held in China in 1991, i.e. more than 60 years after the first men’s World Cup. 3 So far, the Giro is the only Grand Tour that offers a feminised version of itself (source). 4 FIFA only decided in 2014 to lift the ban on playing with head scarfs (source). a large extent who can compete in particular sport disciplines. As Irene Monroe wrote in her blog, this type of discrimination creates a situation in which not only the athletes miss out, but so, too, does the world. The second interconnection between gender and sport is related to wage disparities in professional sports. It is old news that women from all over the world are striving for equal pay for equal work. However, in sports the wage gap seems to be extremely solid. Some tend to explain the gender wage gap as a natural consequence of biological differences between men and women (e.g. strength, endurance, haemoglobin values). Yet in some sports female athletes have succeeded in their attempt to obtain equal prize money. Female tennis players, for instance, owe this achievement to the victory of Billy Jean King over her male opponent Bobby Riggs who openly criticized the idea of equal pay for male and female athletes. Even though this legendary battle of the sexes took place in 1973, the wage gap has remained in the majority of the sport disciplines. This is mainly due to the fact that the economy that underpins professional sports is highly demand-driven. In other words, the wages of athletes do not merely depend on their athletic achievements, but also on the value in terms of television rights, ticketing and sponsoring. Women’s sports seem to be trapped in a vicious circle of low demand, fewer fans, less media coverage and fewer sponsors. It remains to be seen therefore whether incremental measures such as the inclusion of women in the 2016 version of the famous FIFA game will help women in their quest for fans, sponsors and exposure in a sports world dominated by men. Another interconnection between sport and gender is the gender disparity in sport journalism. Several studies have demonstrated that female sport reporters are still rare in this man’s game of sport journalism (Franks and O’Neill, 2014). Consequently, female sport journalists endure their struggle to gain respect from their male counterparts as well as from the athletes themselves. An American female sport reporter, Rachel Blount, argues that breaking through the glass ceiling in sport journalism requires women to pursue decision-making and opinion-setting positions in the sports world as we will otherwise continue in a world in which “men set the agenda and drive the majority of the discussion”. It follows that we must indeed ask ourselves to what extent women are engaged in agendasetting activities within the context of sports and soccer in particular. The finding that it took until 2013(!) for the very first woman – Burundi’s Lydia Nsekera – to be elected as a member of FIFA’s Executive Board, is somewhat disappointing and discouraging. However, this observation might be indirectly linked to the recently revealed bribery practices as evidence tends to suggest that women may have higher standards of ethical behaviour and be more concerned with common goods (Rivas, 2013). While other researchers tend to nuance these claims depending on institutional and cultural context (Alhassan-Alolo, 2007; Esarey and Chirillo, 2013), increasing the participation of women in decision-making bodies and agendasetting activities might be worth considering not only because of the existing evidence that women may be less likely to behave opportunistically than men (Dollar et al., 2001), but also for reasons of gender equality more generally. As some journalists believe that the upcoming reconstruction of the FIFA constitutes the most significant opportunity for change that’s come along so far, we might at least try to go beyond doing business as usual. On a final note, we would like to inform you that the United States won the 7th edition of the World Cup. In the event that you do not