While the coronavirus crisis has impacted sport at all levels, the effects on women’s football have been especially severe and this is why industry experts have called for there to be even more investment in the women’s game than in the men’s game at this time. Given the weaker fundamental structures of women’s football, equal investment wouldn’t even be enough. Instead, the argument is that there’s a need for the authorities to put greater resources into women’s sport.
This was one of the main talking points during the ‘Women’s Sport: The Necessary Steps For A Progressive Future’ panel during WFS Live powered by Ronaldo, which was moderated by Alexandra Gómez Bruinewoud, senior legal counsel at FIFPro. It had Tatjana Haenni, director of women’s football at the Swiss Football Association, Bex Smith, global director of the women’s game at COPA90, Khalida Popal, founder and director of the Girl Power Organisation, and Jorge Garbajosa, president of the Spanish Basketball Federation, as guests.
As Gómez Bruinewoud explained: “At FIFPro, we have been studying women’s football in general, but also we’ve put a little bit more interest on the effects of COVID-19 on women’s football. Of course, as everyone who is interested in football in general and in women’s football in particular, we were really really worried about what would happen. We did some research and what we’re encouraging and suggesting is that actually, in this moment, it’s not enough to say ‘ok, we’ll invest the same in women’s football’, which is not even the case by far anywhere. It should be even more! They need extra support because the structures are weak and the basis is still not there.”
In certain countries, solid structures are in place and Smith raised the positive example of the DFB, the German federation. She said: “I think the structures need to be in the right place. If you have the right structures then a great example of that is what the DFB did with the solidarity fund that the top four clubs then distributed and it actually went to women’s football because that was the equitable thing to do.”
Such a positive example is rare, though, and the panelists agreed with the need for financial backing of women’s sport at this time. “To really convince the last people who are still not seeing the opportunity and the potential, we need some money coming into women’s football and you can actually make a business case, but you need a decent plan,” said Haenni.
It’s not only about financially supporting women’s sport during the times of COVID-19. It’s about doing so at all times. Encouragingly, Garbajosa revealed that the Spanish Basketball Federation were thinking about this issue even before the pandemic and they realised that there was a need to not just fund women’s basketball equally, but to actually allocate a little more to the women’s game.
“We are investing a little bit more in women’s basketball than in men’s basketball,” Garbajosa told the WFS Live audience. “In terms of the commitment of the men’s basketball players with the women, here in Spain in our federation it is 100 percent. When they get a bonus, the bonuses for the men and the women are completely equal. The money that they get for every day that they practice or play games is completely equal also. It’s a matter of being fair because the effort they show on the court every day is the same so they have to get the same from our federation.”
Ultimately, having more women in leading roles will help to bring about the positive changes that are needed and this was another takeaway that the panelists agreed upon. “I think it’s very important to create more job opportunities and educational opportunities for women to gain the skills to be more involved in developing the women’s game, as we need more women,” Popal concluded.
This panel took place during the third day of WFS Live, which is running from Monday July 6th to Friday July 10th. It is still possible to buy a ticket here, with all net proceeds to be donated to Fundação Fenômenos and the Common Goal COVID-19 Response Fund.
Quotes from the ‘Women’s Sport: The Necessary Steps For A Progressive Future’ panel
Tatjana Haenni, on the business case for women’s football:
“I think women’s football is a business case. I think it’s the biggest growth opportunity in terms of participation, sponsorships, partnerships, media partnerships. If you don’t have a proper business plan and investment behind then you just don’t get the results as quickly as you can. If I look at the FIFA Women’s World Cup as an example. It still doesn’t have its own sponsorship packages. It’s not unbundled as far as I know. That might have reasons for it because maybe the contracts are so long that they can’t unbundle it. But, I haven’t really seen a plan. Whereas, at the UEFA level, you see that there are specific sponsors for the Women’s Euros. So, there is the momentum for a commercial business case for women’s football.”
Bex Smith, on the media’s role in setting and defining value:
“Actually, media has an even bigger role to play than just giving visibility. I think that just in the way how media divides the time that women get and men get, that puts a value on it. [It suggests] that men are actually worth more and valued more and that people should then invest more in the men’s side of the game.”
Khalida Popal, on unhelpful comparisons between women’s and men’s football:
“Media has a huge impact on women’s football. It helps women’s football a lot, but we have to also understand that the way some media communicate is wrong. We have to stop comparing women’s football and men’s football. Women’s football is a beautiful product. We have to communicate it and we have to sell the story differently. Most of the media channels are making the mistake of comparing women’s football. That’s why we’re getting hurt in terms of sponsorship deals, in so many ways and also getting fans.”
Jorge Garbajosa, on investing in women’s sport for the right reasons:
“Sometimes, from the men’s point of view, the investment in women’s sport is like a kind of charity. No, it’s not a charity. It’s a strategic pillar of the development, at least in Spain, of our sport. Here, there’s no difference between men or women. Our goal is to develop our sport and one of the main pillars is women’s basketball as we try to reach our goals.”
Alexandra Gómez Bruinewoud, on how some women footballers are more political in the media:
“We’re seeing in women’s football lots of very highly educated women that have a lot to say and probably that’s also connected to how they’re expressing themselves in the media, how they put through strong messages, how they’re a little bit more political if you want to describe it in a word maybe. I think it was, I don’t know if surprising, but something to highlight and pay attention to if we looked at the awards of The Best of FIFA, where Messi won The Best for the male players and Megan Rapinoe for the women players. Then, you looked at their speeches. Without needing to compare them, you see how different they were. Rapinoe was really giving a political stand, whereas Messi was not and was giving more of a personal speech.”