Women’s football has extraordinarily succeeded in getting the attention of fans and the mass media. FIFA World Cup France 2019 registered a record audience: 1120 million spectators connected through different platforms to see the competition. This data meant an increase of 30% in relation to the 764 million in Canada 2015. The final between the United States and the Netherlands was the most watched game in the history of women’s World Cups with a live audience of 82.18 million, 56% more than the 52.56 million spectators in Canada 2015. The golden minute was seen by 263.62 million spectators. This was 22.9% of all the tournament. 1
As the FIFA president Gianni Infantino said, FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup “was a cultural phenomenon that got the attention of the mass media as never before and offered an outstanding platform that enabled the women’s football development. The fact that the 1000 million objective was exceeded demonstrates the take-off of women’s football and, if first division football is promoted and broadcasted globally, no matter if it is women’s or men’s, fans will watch it”.2
Despite these extraordinary figures, women’s football does not have as much exhibition as men’s football and its impact and interest are still distant from the ones caused by men’s.
What can we do to bridge the gender gap between men and women in football?
This question is very important since we know that the investment in elite sport and its events influences inactive people and makes them start practising sports. Besides, the huge impact football has may lead to the disappearance of gender inequality in our society.
Scientific evidence suggests three reasons why women practice more or less football and why there is a bigger gender gap between men and women.
- The first one is economic.3-5 Economic development affects the gender gap in football differently in different countries. The higher the GDP per person, the better the sporting and organisational infrastructure, the better access to equipment and the higher free time available for women’s sports.
- The second reason has to do with gender equality.6.7 Countries where women have the same opportunities in society as men are more likely to invest in women’s sports. The obvious consequence is the increase in the number of women that play football and the improvement of their sports level.
- The third reason is political. 7-9 The gender gap between women’s and men’s football is also influenced by the policies proposal deliberately designed to promote women’s football. Women’s football promotion has to do with specific strategies in and out of the field to increase the general level of interest and knowledge of the game, participation included, media coverage, and to fill management vacancies at different sports organizations and institutions. Even though men’s football is more popular than women’s in most of the countries, the more the countries support women’s football, the more visibility it will have and the smaller the popularity gap will be.
A recent research10 has analysed how important each of these reasons are to explain the difference in performance of men’s and women’s national teams in each country. The question is the following one: Why does the men’s national team of a country succeeds more internationally than the women’s one? To answer that, the FIFA Ranking was analysed to see the difference between men’s and women’s national teams of 116 countries between the years 2003 and 2019. Results were suggestive. Women’s national teams get better results at international tournaments when policies designed to promote women’s football in the country have been implemented. However, the economic reason seems to be less important. In the end, women’s football is not a subproduct of men’s football. In countries where women’s football is actively promoted, women’s national teams are better.
Recommendations to bridge the gender gap between men and women point out that it is necessary to remove gender inequality by promoting women’s football in particular. Sports managers should propose actions to increase the number of women in organizations that control football development, develop specific promotion programs for women’s football and create strategic plans to participate in women’s football development.
To conclude, the recent development of women’s football should make us understand that actions are needed to bridge the gender gap between men and women. We cannot wait.
- Hoffmann R, Chew Ging L, Matheson V, et al. (2006) International women’s football and gender inequality. Applied Economics Letters 13(15): 999– 1001.
- Jayachandran S (2015) The roots of gender inequality in developing countries. Annual Review of Political Science 7: 63– 88.
- Torgler B (2008) The determinants of women’s international soccer performances. International Journal of Management and Marketing 3(4): 305– 318.
- Mosedale S (2005) Assessing women’s empowerment towards a conceptual framework. Journal of International Development 17: 243– 257.
- Valenti M, Scelles N and Morrow S (2020) Elite sports and international sporting success: A panel data analysis of European women’s national football team performance. European Sport Management Quarterly 20(3): 300– 320.
- De Bosscher V, De Knop P, van Bottenburg M, et al. (2006) A conceptual framework for analysing sports policy factors leading to international sporting success. European Sport Management Quarterly 6(2): 185– 21.
- Williams J (2003) A Game For Rough Girls: A History of Women’s Football in England. A History of Women’s Football in Britain. New York: Routledge.
- Lago I, Lago-Peñas C and Lago-Peñas S. (2022) Waiting or Acting? The Gender Gap in International Football Success. International Journal for the Sociology of Sport. Ahead of print.