A weekend to start tackling stereotypes
Beyond politics, beyond corruption scandals and all the media hype let me invite you to the touching stories of everyday footballers who struggle to just play. These athletes have been pushing barriers from an early age in order to perform at the highest level on your screens over the coming month.
Indeed, this weekend will see the FIFA Women’s World Cup kickoff games and although less popular than the men’s World Cup we are seeing positive steps forward. What we need now is for everyone to support participation in sport regardless of gender thereby challenging gender norms and defying negative stereotypes that affect us all.
We have nonetheless come a long way. The first unofficial women’s World Cup took place in Italy in the 1970 Coppa del Mondo and was followed by the Mundial which took place in Mexico in 1971. Yet the 1st FIFA organized official World Cup didn’t take place until 1991 in China. Sport governance brought status and recognition to the event recognizing its importance but the standard was minimal, there were no sponsors, media relays were weak, there was no winners’ prize money and matches lasted just 80 minutes.
Huge steps have been taken towards equal opportunities in participation. But it is not enough, while prize money is now available to female winners, at $13.6m, it must be reminded that this only represents 3.3% of what the men’s winners earned in Brazil 2014.
For the first time, 24 teams will be competing with only eight of these led by female coaches. I am not saying men cannot coach women, as I believe men as much as women need to support each other in building a more just world and for this we need to combine forces, but we must ask whether these numbers reflect the current reality of our society; one that discriminates women in a form of violence if not always direct then structural and cultural.
When I speak of peace as not merely the absence of war, I speak about issues such as gender discrimination. Sport has the power to challenge gender norms and defies negative stereotypes not only on the field of play, but also in the workplace, in the home, in schools and in other aspects of society. We need to work hand in hand to ensure equal opportunities for all regardless of gender at all levels of sport and peace building in order to best represent our communities.
Even though sport can support the emancipation of women and build competencies, reality shows the gender gap that is present in sport itself, which cannot be ignored. Despite the enormous growth in the tournament it would be foolish to ignore the inequalities that persist. With the new changes in FIFA a new commitment needs to be made towards bettering treatment of women in football, but not only in football. Governance in general needs to take steps forward. The IOC for example has recently released its new commission lineup that saw a sharp increase in women representation as members.
Let me thereby send out a call for all to be part of this evolution that needs your support, from this weekend onwards. Speak to your community about the World Cup and create enthusiasm around it. Open dialogue around these athletes and consider them with the respect they deserve for their sporting competence. It is our common responsibility to not only change the game but most importantly it is to our common benefit, to fight discrimination based on gender thereby ensuring more equal representation within our communities and ensuring we evolve in plurality, and build together towards a plural world.