Football is undeniably the world’s most popular sport. No other game has captured the collective imagination of generations, rallied entire nations to come together and incited national and local pride to such a degree.
Yet, even though we cheer on teams to represent our countries on an international scale via competitions such as the World Cup, the sport itself has a troubling past of gender exclusion.
Across the globe – the sport is entirely male-dominated, with female leagues and leadership making up a tiny and relatively insignificant fraction of the total profession.
The past ten years, however, have fought to change that. With the growth of investment into female teams, competitions (including a Women’s World Cup) and sports figures has reignited a genuine global interest. Recently, celebrities have joined in this effort to expand on this relatively untapped sports market. Last week, actor Natalie Portman co-invested in a football (soccer) team of her own – brining a National Women’s Soccer League team to Los Angeles by 2022.
Nevertheless, sceptics remain – with many dissenting voiced arguing that there is simply not enough of an international market for a female version of the sport to compete against the male equivalent. These dissenters, however, would be wise to study their history. In the early 1900s women’s football was so popular in the UK that it regularly attracted crowds of 50,000 to 60,000 spectators to local and international matches. So strong was the appeal, that the FA (football’s regulating body) took the decision to ban the female matches on their grounds to help boost games by male teams.
The FA’s decision effectively killed women’s football at its nascent state, putting back the calendar nearly a century until it could finally find its feet again. In 2016 a report by the Wall Street Journal showed that for the first time, revenue made through advertisements in women’s football actually overtook the men’s – a clear indication that the multi-billion dollar industry is ripe for expansion.
The future does indeed seem bright for the women of football and we highly look forward to new legends being born in the sport to sit alongside the growing pantheon of famous women’s football stars; Mia Hamm, Birgit Prinz, Marta, Sun Wen and others.
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