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Level the playing field

1 September, 2023

With the buzz from the women’s World Cup tournament subsiding, we are left with a bittersweet aftertaste in the wake of the array of controversies that surfaced during the competition. As Megan Rapino of the US team stated, women footballers are ‘playing two games at the same time’- one on the pitch, and the other, offside, in a more structural and historic battle for equality.

The World Cup was a significant event for women’s football, with record-breaking attendance, viewership and prize money; all evidence that progress is in action. But there’s a limit to change when the game itself is designed to be played by the default male body. If women are to play a fair and safe game, the size of the pitch, football and goals should account for their smaller average size. They’re at a greater risk of injury too; the studded shoes, designed for men, increase women’s risk of a knee injury, the weight of the ball makes them more susceptible to brain damage, and evidence suggests that women have a greater risk of tearing their ACL, because of fluctuating oestrogen levels.

The inequality of the “beautiful” game is perhaps most grossly epitomised by the non-consensual kiss that Spanish FA chief Luis Rubiales planted on a player’s lips, following victory. His trivialisation of it, and refusal to step down, despite multiple other allegations of sexual misconduct, has clouded Spain’s triumph, and the progress made in women’s football. It’s not the only example of such behaviour, with the president of Haiti’s football federation, and Nigeria’s coach also accused of sexual misconduct.

Amidst this all, one can’t help but wonder where the voices of the sponsors are. They hold significant power to condemn such scandals and join women in this battle, but many businesses have been notably silent. While Spanish sponsors Iberia and Iberdrola publicly condemned Rubiales’ actions, they’ve also made no allusion to the possibility of cutting ties. Separately, Nike has refused to release replicas of the women’s football jerseys due to ‘commercial strategy’, while continuing to sell replicas of the men’s. It continues to be an unequal game, and there’s a gaping hole that businesses should be filling if we’re to win the match against inequality.

By Rosie Serlin

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