the world cup: a practice in inequality

Today is the first day of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar. It is estimated that Qatar spent over $229 billion in hosting the tournament and over 3 million tickets were sold for the tournament. The World Cup is held every four years with the men’s and women’s cups occurring in consecutive years (i.e., 2018 and 2019, then 2022 and 2023), and there are 209 member countries. This year there are 32 countries competing in the cup, and experts are predicting that over 5 billion individuals worldwide will tune in and watch some or all of the tournament.

The last Women’s World Cup was in 2019 and it was reported that over 1.12 billion individuals worldwide tuned into the tournament, with over 260 million people watching the final between the U.S. and the Netherlands. Going into the 2019 Women’s World Cup, 49% of female professional soccer players in the U.S. did not receive a salary despite the industry making over $500 billion a year and the U.S. Women’s National Team bringing in more revenue than the men’s team. Furthermore, at the time, over 87% of female players quit before reaching 25 due to a lack of/low pay. 

Women in soccer have historically faced inequality in the sport; in 1921, the English Football Federation banned the use of facilities for matches between women’s teams and didn’t lift the ban until 50 years later in 1971. It took another nine years for FIFA to recognize women’s soccer, and it wasn’t until 1991 (11 years after recognition) for FIFA to finally hold a women’s soccer tournament. Another more modern slap in the face to women’s soccer players was the 2012 decision by Brazil’s Santos Football club to get rid of their female branch in order to increase the salary of Neymar, a famous Brazilian soccer player, who later turned down the increased salary to play for FC Barcelona instead. 

The U.S. Women’s National Team has been a figurehead for feminism is sports for the several years now, with this role coming to a head after claiming the FIFA Women’s World Cup title against the Netherlands in 2019. When the final whistle blew and it was declared that team USA had won, fans around the stadium began the change “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!” as the team celebrated. Megan Rapinoe, a celebrated member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, has been an outspoken leader in the fight for equal pay in sports. 

“Men are so often paid and compensated on the potential that they show, not necessarily what they’ve done, and women are so often paid on what they’ve actually done — which normally I would say, we outperform what our contract was.” -Megan Rapinoe

In 2022, the U.S. Soccer Federation finally announced that the men’s and women’s National Teams would be paid the same in all tournaments and matches, marking a major win for all U.S. female athletes. Despite this win, women in sports still have a long road ahead of them towards reaching full gender equality, which can be extremely disheartening. It is crucial that we continue to support female athletes and petition for equality in pay and media representation until our expectations of equality are met. It is crucial that we create a world in which children are not only aware of the Michael Phelps and Christiano Relandos of the world, but are also familiar with strong female athletes like Katie Ledecky and Megan Rapinoe. Having strong, female athlete role models to inspire aspirations of greatness along with male athletes is an important step in creating a future generation of female athletes who will continue to fight for equality. We need individuals who will continue the fight for equal pay and equal representation in sports media to ensure that women’s sports will eventually be treated as equal to men’s and regarded with the same sense of celebration.  

One thought on “the world cup: a practice in inequality

  1. I think this is such an important issue to talk about. I grew up playing soccer and idolized USWNT. In 4th grade, I dressed up as Abby Wambach for Halloween. Nobody knew who she was, despite her being in the national soccer hall of fame, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and a World Cup champion. It is disappointing that female athletes are still facing unequal representation and pay. These women are important role models for young girls.


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