In 2014, a beer brand came up with an ad campaign in Brazil, inviting women to a grand shoe sale. The reason? So that these women will be so preoccupied that they’ll leave men alone to watch and enjoy that year’s UEFA Champions League Finals. The intention may have been funny, but the insight is anything but: the existence of such a campaign meant that people actually thought women had no business with sports. This ad was not the first of its kind, nor was it the last, making it seem like the stereotype isn’t about go away—but perhaps, things are about to change.
Fast forward to 2015. Twitter recently released a year-end review of its most influential events, based on the number of tweets, mentions, and hashtags generated. Sixth on the list is the FIFA Women’s World Cup, whose tweets (#FIFAWWC) were viewed 9 billion times from opening to finals, making the tournament one of the largest global sporting events of the year, a record in the history of women in sports.
In fact, the record-breaking numbers don’t stop there. According to Fox Sports, the final championship match between the USA and Japan saw an average of 25.4 million viewers while peaking at 30.9 million, making it “the highest metered market rating ever for a soccer game in the U.S. on a single network,” beating even the men’s football numbers.
Change has indeed begun, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Although athletes like 5-time World Tennis Association top rank champion Serena Williams and mixed martial artist and Olympic judoka Ronda Rousey have become household names in their respective fields, women in team sports are still fighting to make their mark and prove their mettle. Just recently, the US Women’s National Team has had to cancel its friendly match in Hawaii against Trinidad & Tobago over playing surface concerns. One of the USWNT’s players, Megan Rapinoe, tore her ACL during a training session on a pitch said to have been “equally poor” as the one at Aloha Stadium, where the match was scheduled to take place.
This comes after a group of top international women players filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over the use of artificial turf at the 2015 World Cup. According to their claim, artificial turfs are deemed substandard to grass fields because of the heightened risk of injuries. It is necessary to point out that not one of the men’s World Cup matches have ever been played on a turf, and based on 2018 and 2022 projections, not one will ever be.
Despite certain grim realities and the prevalence of misguided advertising, the fact remains: things are picking up for women in sports and people are starting to get on board. Athletes are speaking out and fans are showing support. It’s a start, but at the rate things are going, women will be playing side by side with the best of men in no time.