Irish sporting fans don’t often cheer for England in any sport. However, the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championship was a game-changer, with England’s Lionesses capturing the imagination of sporting fans everywhere in achieving their own fairy tale and winning the tournament. Fans of women’s sport in Ireland could be seen sporting English soccer jerseys for the first, and possibly the last time, now that the Irish women’s soccer team have achieved their own fairy tale, qualifying for their first ever Women’s World Cup, where they had the honour of playing the opening game versus co-host, Australia.
A world away from this pinnacle of soccer performance, in the wider sporting world, women’s sports have been perennially underfunded, underpromoted and underappreciated.
Females make up almost 50% of athletes, yet garner less than 5% of all sports media coverage, resulting in low levels of visibility of women’s sports. In a male-dominated industry, there is a large disparity between men’s and women’s sports. The coverage gap has created a commercial investment, broadcast media and sponsorship vacuum. This extends beyond the pitch, to the media world where only 14% of all sports journalists, and 18% of all sports pundits and presenters are women.
Restricted visibility of women’s sports has influenced the behaviours of fans of women’s sports (FoWS), attracting them to more accessible, digital spaces to watch online. During the last Women’s World Cup in 2019, 43% of the viewership was through digital channels, versus the last Men’s World Cup, with 9% of its viewership coming from digital channels. FoWS are being forced to access their sport through online platforms such as streaming services, websites or mobile apps. My hope is that FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 can be the catalyst for this to change across the media broadcast landscape.
Stats Perform must play its role in driving visibility and working towards parity for women’s soccer. As the leading data provider in soccer globally, we have the opportunity to showcase Opta data and brand, together with our Pressbox platform, to amplify the conversation and engagement around the Women’s World Cup and promote the development of the game.
In the age of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, parity is top of mind in the boardroom, and in the minds of our Customers and Partners, who often ask about parity in sports data. Achieving this in our Opta soccer data is a challenge, aiming to complete historical data sets when often game footage or base data information is hard to find. However, we will continue to strive for innovative and strategic ways to complete our data sets. Stats Perform’s commitment to this work reflects our understanding of the challenge and the role we play in working towards parity for women’s sport.
While I have discussed many ways that we can improve women’s sports. I would like to highlight how women’s soccer has made significant progress and achieved towards parity over the past few years.
INCREASE IN PARTICIPATION
Women’s soccer has seen a surge in participation globally. More girls and women are joining soccer clubs and teams at various levels, including grassroots, youth academies, and professional leagues. This increased participation has created a stronger foundation for the sport and provided more opportunities for women to pursue soccer careers.
What has changed is that young players no longer only have players like Marcus Rashford or Erling Haaland to see how to be a great soccer player, but also Katie McCabe and Leah Williamson.
INCREASE IN PROFESSIONAL WOMEN'S SOCCER LEAGUES
The number of professional women’s soccer leagues has grown significantly, both at the domestic and international levels. Existing leagues, such as the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States, have expanded their operations, and new leagues have been established in countries like Spain and Italy.
There has been an increased push for equal pay in women’s soccer. Several national teams, including the United States, Australia and Norway, have secured improved contracts and pay structures for their women’s teams, narrowing the wage gap between men’s and women’s soccer. While there is still work to be done, these developments mark a significant step forward in addressing gender disparities in the sport.
I would also like to highlight that FIFA has increased the prize money by 300% to $110M (vs. $440M for the Men’s World Cup), with a further $42M investment in the Women’s game. In addition, each player in this Women’s World Cup is guaranteed a payment of $30,000, a minimum threshold that is a first for the competition. While this is still not representative of equal pay, it’s a step in the right direction.
INCREASED REPRESENTATION IN LEADERSHIP
There has been a greater emphasis on women’s representation in leadership roles within football organizations. More women are assuming positions of influence and decision-making power in national football associations, clubs, and governing bodies. This improved representation is vital for addressing the unique challenges faced by women in soccer and promoting gender equality in the sport.
These advancements have laid a strong foundation for the future of women’s soccer and will continue to inspire girls and women around the world to pursue their passion for the sport. However, there are still areas where further improvements are needed. These include continued efforts to close the pay gap, enhance media coverage, and broadcasting of women’s matches, and provide more investment and resources for women’s soccer at all levels.
Men can play a crucial role in advocating for parity in women’s sports. This week in Ireland, in our native sport of Gaelic Games, we saw male advocacy-in-action, with the men’s inter-county hurling and football teams releasing a statement supporting parity for female players. “We, the 68 captains of the male senior inter-county teams, want to express our full support for our female colleagues and stand beside them #UnitedForEquality.”
Advocating for parity is an ongoing commitment. Whether on the sports field or in the workplace, it requires awareness, openness, allyship, and real action to create lasting change. Parity is what players and Fans of Women’s Sports want.
I encourage everyone, especially men, to be an ally for women and think of how your decisions and efforts can positively affect parity for women’s sports. For now, we are encouraged by the progress.
Going back to the Lionesses. What this team has accomplished is something spectacular. Leaders on and off the pitch helped to make this possible. Taking their cue from the Lionesses, in Ireland, this is a massive time for women’s soccer, with the Irish women’s team will be competing in its first-ever World Cup, led by the straight-talking Dutch Coach Vera Pauw.
So, will I be cheering for England in this World Cup? Absolutely! And for the USA. And for Australia. I will be cheering for women’s soccer and women’s sport, full stop. For the 32 teams and 732 players, who are history and future makers. Of course, the loudest cheers, they will go to our Girls in Green.