Unpacking the sexism of the World Cup

by Clare Tourtelotte, Sports Editor
photo contributed by Clare Tourtelotte

As the Men’s World Cup draws to a close, it is undeniable that the world’s eyes are largely on soccer right now; however, as usual, this attention has greatly eclipsed any spotlight that women have ever received. Despite recent progress with equal pay in sports, there still is a long way to go for the Women’s World Cup to be treated with the same respect as its male counterpart. 

For as long as we can remember, gender equality has been an issue in sports. Female and male athletes have not received anywhere close to equal salaries, and while still the case in many sports (the average male NBA player earns $5.3 million a year, whereas the average WNBA player earns $130,000 a year), the United States national soccer teams have made great leaps of progress in evening the wage gap. 

This May, the U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams made history when they announced the ratification of two new monetary agreements. After years of pushes by the women’s national team players’ union, several court cases, protests and Megan Rapinoe’s visit to the White House, they achieved equal pay for both teams. 

However, because the marketing for the two teams still favors men’s soccer  — awarding them more advertising money and bonuses — the players are still not pocketing equal money.

This World Cup, when the U.S. men advanced to the round of 16, they secured a prize of at least $13 million — more than the combined prize money the U.S. women’s team earned for WINNING the last two World Cups. How about this: after the federation takes some of the men’s prize money, the remaining money will be split with the women’s team. 

While some argue that the money shouldn’t be split among the teams, according to an article published on the Major League Soccer website, sharing the money fosters unity among the soccer teams and allows for equal quality of venues, field playing surfaces, hotel accommodations and staffing for camps and charter flights. 

It is unfair that in order to achieve this equality, women have to “take” some of the men’s money, but that’s the reality of the sexist world of sports. The men are not doing anything fundamentally better in order to earn more money — they are just men. Female athletes work just as hard as male athletes, but they don’t get nearly enough recognition or money.

In a perfect world, the prize money shouldn’t have to be split; the prize money for the women’s tournament should be equal to that of the men’s tournament. However, that is simply not the case. The soccer industry and sports industry as a whole is heavily skewed in support of the male teams.

Whenever you walk into a restaurant, turn on popular TV stations or read the sports section of the Boston Globe, viewers are only exposed to male sports. Soccer is no different: female soccer players are not seen as equal to their male counterparts, despite achieving far greater. 

According to Statistica, a software specializing in market and consumer data, during the 2019 Women’s Soccer World Cup,  which the U.S team won, advertisers spent $96 million on ads aired in the U.S. TV networks. A year earlier, for the 2018 Men’s World Cup, in which the U.S. didn’t even qualify, spending on advertisements reached $350 million — over three times the amount than for women’s soccer. 

We can’t stop pushing progress after achieving equal pay; we must fundamentally change how the World Cups are designed. Let’s start with the name. There’s one World Cup for men and one for women, yet the Women’s World Cup has to be specified with the word ‘women’ and the Men’s World Cup doesn’t, deemed solely the World Cup. 

I think the soccer federation finds power in simply naming it the World Cup because dramatizing the tournament implies more power and strength and therefore more advertisers. What they don’t recognize, however, is the negative connotations it leaves for the Women’s World Cup — it implies otherness and invalidates everything that female soccer players work for by deeming that their World Cup as not the main competition. 

As a society, we must take major steps in the way we perceive sports. Men are not better than women, and women are not less competitive than men. 

I hope that this summer, the 2023 Women’s World Cup receives the recognition it deserves, and I can’t wait to see the powerhouses of women’s soccer perform on the biggest world stage.