July 15, 2021

No, this was Not England’s First Final in 55 Years: on Sexism, Sports & the British Media. 

Football fever struck the nation.

“The big game” took place on Sunday. We were: “Finalists for the First Time in 55 Years.” Or so our national news providers and social media users insisted. Yes, the headlines were true, England’s men’s football team made history. They were in a cup final—their first since 1966.

What was missing from these news reports was any acknowledgement that this was only the men’s team’s first in 55 years.

The women’s team reached the final of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Women’s Championship in both 1984 and 2009, and they reached the semi-finals in 2017.

They also came third in the 2015 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Women’s World Cup when they played Germany in their final game of the tournament, and came fourth in 2019.

Are the women who play for their country less worthy of recognition? I’m sure that they are equally dedicated, professional, and passionate.

As I read the news articles which followed the men’s team’s success in the semi-final, and saw the social media posts which focussed on “England’s” accomplishments, I wondered how Ellie Roebuck, Sandy MacIver, Carly Telford, Karen Bardsley, Leah Williamson, Rachel Daly, Lucy Bronze, Lotte Wubben-Moy, Millie Turner, Alex Greenwood, Demi Stokes, Millie Bright, Esme Morgan, Keira Walsh, Georgia Stanway, Jill Scott, Ella Toone, Jordan Nobbs, Niamh Charles, Bethany England, Ellen White, Chloe Kelly, Lauren Hemp, Beth Mead, Fran Kirby, and Nikita Parris, felt.

Not heard of these women? They are England’s senior women’s football team. If you do know them, you’re in the minority.

Finally, a few posts did appear on social media, highlighting the journalists’ error.

Sadly, women’s football still draws in less crowds than men’s football does. The men’s semi-final last week drew in a UK audience of 27.6 million, and 30.95 million watched the final.

In comparison, only 3.2 million viewers watched the women’s semi-final in the UK in 2015 and 11.73 million in 2019. The figures are growing, which is good news for the team and their supporters—but the men’s team is still attracting more than double.

There is also a large disparity in pay. FIFA paid out $400 million in total to the men’s teams during the 2018 World Cup, with the winning team receiving $38m prize money. The women’s teams in their 2019 competition however, only received $30 million in total, with $4 million going to the winners.

Some progress has been made with the Football Association (FA), who changed their policy in January 2020 to provide parity on match fees and bonuses for games played for England. Sadly though, whilst female professional footballers can earn between £20,000 and £200,000 per year, male players in the Premier League will receive on average £3m.

I appreciate that with greater viewing figures comes greater sponsorships and advertising revenue, but without the support of the media promoting the women’s team, how can this be expected to change?

I was disheartened that national media channels ignored their existence and promoted the “first final in 55 years” as just that. Could they not make room on their page to add “mens?”

The match was played and lost, and the media aftermath has been overwhelmingly sad, with the focus on the racist abuse being hurled at our outstanding young players.

Now, more than ever, we should be uniting as a nation and offering our support and encouragement as they turn their attention to the upcoming World Cup.

My hope is that once our focus has shifted, we remember to support the women’s team, who need us to back them whole heartedly when next year they compete in the Women’s UEFA competition.

Lionesses—Come on England!

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