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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Domestic womens’ sports deserve more support

Illustration+by+Rachel+Choi.
Rachel Choi
Illustration by Rachel Choi.

New Zealand and Australia hosted the FIFA Women’s World Cup from July to August this year. The atmosphere was electric. Fans showed up in droves to support the women representing their countries and New Zealanders rallied behind our Football Ferns like never before. The very first match, New Zealand vs. Norway, broke the national record for the biggest crowd attending a soccer match in New Zealand ever and the biggest TV audience for a New Zealand soccer match in over 20 years. 

Viral TikToks of large crowds watching the Australian women’s soccer team, the Matildas, blew up overnight. The United States couldn’t get enough of Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, right up until their elimination in the Round of 16. People around the world were talking about womens’ soccer, discussing results and upcoming games the way sports media, news and radio, and even your baristas and cashiers and Uber drivers do with mens’ sports. It felt like finally, there was this spotlight on womens’ sports as something that mattered, something to be taken seriously. 

The World Cup came to an end, with Spain beating England in the final, and just like that, no one cared anymore. Players went back to their clubs and were greeted with the same level of indifference as usual. The loss of interest was staggering and immediate. The account for the Women’s World Cup on Instagram, @fifawomensworldcup, went from getting over 50k likes on posts about teams and fixtures to receiving less than 1600 likes on a post about the League Final for the New Zealand Football Women’s National League. 

It’s the same players, playing the same sport, to the same level. It’s just as interesting and exciting to watch, whether they are donning club colors or national colors. Why then, does it seem like people only care about womens’ sports when they are on an international level?

Why are Americans and Canadians invested in whether their women’s ice hockey team wins at the Olympics, but when women play on their homeground, the leagues struggle to even exist? The NHL has existed for over 100 years and yet only this year the Professional Womens’ Hockey League is being founded.

The PWHL team for Boston has a measly 10 thousand Instagram followers compared to the Bruins whopping 1.6 million. The Bruins play at TD Garden, whereas the 6,500-capacity Tsongas Center in Lowell is rumored to be the home ice of the PWHL Boston team.  This placement makes the game further inaccessible to people like college students in Boston who may want to go see games, but can’t because getting to Lowell via public transport is difficult in comparison to TD Garden.

This choice of location is not only assuming that a team made up of some of the best hockey players in the world do not play to a high enough caliber to attract audiences, but it actively makes it more difficult to build an audience for the game, when they exclude so many demographics with inaccessibility. 

These drawbacks exist in so many places within womens’ sports. Women are still banned from playing sports and/or competing in countries like Saudi Arabia. Even in more outwardly progressive countries, talented women are pushed out by harmful and often misogynistic rhetoric—“you run/throw/play like a girl”—whereas “you swim like a man” is supposed to be a compliment. The insult was famously used as a compliment to U.S. Olympic Swimmer Katie Ledecky, and is used in school sports and minor leagues and at every single stage of their sporting career. 

People look at me funny when I tell them I only care about womens’ soccer, and couldn’t care less about mens’ soccer, but it is impossible to count how many people do the reverse and think absolutely nothing of it. We have been taught for so long that mens’ sports are sports and womens’ sports are just a caricature of mens’ sports, rather than existing in their own right. 

Womens’ sports don’t receive the same level of viewership, but more importantly they do not receive the same level of funding.  This presents an extra obstacle in building up their viewership. For example, women athletes in the NCAA only receive 40 percent or less of all NCAA’s available  funding.

Funding problems like these are definitely not only present in school and collegiate athletics. The pay gap is just as present in sports as it is in every other industry. In basketball, for example, the average WNBA player makes $113,295 a year, whereas the average NBA player makes $10,776,383. The players’ salaries are paid by team owners, but it is chiefly a publicity problem. America is a profit-driven society. The American Dream tells us that hard work pays off, but womens’ sports apparently does not adhere.

It is publicity that pays. It is sponsorships, advertising, and coverage that pay. Womens’ sports are not profitable on their own because they do not receive sufficient funding and cannot build this publicity that will increase the level of funding they receive. It is a vicious cycle driven by people in positions of power who continue to disregard womens’ sports and make mens’ sports society’s priority. 

It seems from all of this that no one cares about womens’ sports, period, but that clearly isn’t the case. Athletes like Simone Biles, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams are household names across America—all women accomplished and famous in the sports they play. What differentiates their successes from the successes of soccer players or hockey players who are women?

It is that they compete on an inherently international level. Tennis and gymnastics are sports that are played and done country versus country, the United States versus the world. The reason these athletes are respected and celebrated by Americans at large is the same reason that ignorant Americans are so quick to announce themselves in devout support of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team as soon as a World Cup rolls around.

When women represent the United States at the Olympics or a World Cup, they become less than themselves. They are no longer women in the eyes of the audience: they are representatives of their country. We can put aside these ideas we have about womens’ inferior sporting abilities to focus on something we deem more important—pride in our country. On the international stage, nationality can be put above gender in the order of perception. 

People who only care about womens’ sports when they are on a world stage do not actually care about womens’ sports. They care about their countries and they care about winning but they do not care about building equitable sports environments in school or creating opportunities for women to play sports professionally. They do not care about fighting against sexist sports uniforms, advertisements, or commentary

Events like the FIFA Women’s World Cup seemed like such a huge step in the right direction, but there is no way for womens’ sports to progress if people do not recognize their own internal biases against womens’ sports.

If you are only a womens’ sports supporter once every four years, you are not a supporter of womens’ sports. 

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About the Contributor
Ella Duggan
Ella Duggan, Opinion Co-Editor
Ella Duggan (she/her) is a freshman communication studies major from Wellington, New Zealand. She likes writing about sports, feminism, and pop culture. Outside of the Beacon, she sings tenor for the Emerson Acapellics, is an avid reader of romance novels, and loves hockey - Go Canucks!

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