The Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Football

The journey of women’s football has been remarkable, starting way back in 1881. However, the sport faced its most significant challenge in 1921 when women were officially banned from playing for more than 50 years in England. Still, the sport has continued to grow and gain popularity worldwide. In 2018 a report from FIFA even acknowledged that around 29 million women and girls play football globally, with Europe leading the way with over 3.8 million registered female players. 


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Women’s football has been fighting to receive the recognition, appreciation, and professional status that it deserves. This has become especially clear throughout its history, with the sport being banned for a long time and then facing severe pay gaps compared to their male counterparts – despite successes on the international scene.


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The Historical Background of Women’s Football 


Women’s football can be traced back to the latter part of the 1800s when women began engaging in the sport casually. Over the following decades, the popularity of women’s football increased, leading to the establishment of several women’s football teams throughout England by the early 1900s. However, women’s football encountered several obstacles, including opposition from institutions like the English Football Association.


In 1921, the English Football Association officially banned English women from football, claiming that it was unsuitable for women and ran counter to social norms at the time. This ban endured for over five decades, relegating women’s football to small-scale competitions and unofficial matches. Nevertheless, women continued to play football, and gradually, the sport gained acceptance across Europe.


The ban was eventually lifted in 1971, and a year later France competed against The Netherlands in the first official international women’s football game. Since then, women’s football has grown in popularity, with several countries establishing women’s football leagues and international competitions.


The Current State of Women’s Football 


Women’s football has come a long way. In recent years, the sport has grown significantly in popularity and recognition and increased support from fans, sponsors, and governing bodies.


According to a FIFA report from 2018, 29 million women and girls were playing football worldwide, with over 3.8 million registered female players in Europe alone. This number has, of course, increased significantly since then, but an actual report still remains to be established regarding the number of players as of 2023.


In terms of professional leagues, the women’s game has made significant strides. For example, UEFA Women’s Champions League has become a major European competition, with teams from across the continent competing. Additionally, many countries have established their own professional leagues, such as the Women’s Super League in England, the Division 1 Feminine in France, and the Frauen-Bundesliga in Germany.


Despite this progress, there are still challenges that women’s football faces. One of the most critical concerns pertains to the disparity in earnings between male and female football players.


According to a report from 2022 done by The Guardian, the average weekly wage for a female footballer in the top tier of English football is just £5,000, compared to £60,000 for male players. Another challenge is still the lack of media coverage and visibility for women’s football, which can impact sponsorship and fan support.


Opportunities for Growth 


Despite the challenges, there are numerous opportunities for the growth and development of women’s football. One of the most significant opportunities is the sport’s increasing visibility, with more matches being broadcasted live and increased media coverage. This increased visibility helps promote the sport and gives female players greater exposure and recognition. 


Another opportunity for growth is the increasing investment in women’s football, with major brands and sponsors recognising the potential of the sport. For example, Visa recently signed a seven-year deal with UEFA to support women’s football, becoming the first-ever sponsor of the UEFA Women’s Euro tournament.


Promoting Equality in Women’s Football 


Closing the gender pay gap and increasing the number of female coaches and referees are critical steps towards promoting equality in women’s football. Women currently comprise only 6% of UEFA-qualified coaches and 3% of FIFA-qualified referees. Promoting equality and increasing investment and support can help address these challenges and ensure the growth and sustainability of the sport. 


In summary, women’s football is gaining traction in terms of popularity and recognition, presenting more opportunities for female players. Nonetheless, overcoming the many obstacles women face in the sport is vital to ensure its continued growth and viability. Women’s football stands for more than just a game; it represents progress and serves as a reminder that gender should never hinder success.