Can we speak of ‘the feminisation’ of football? | FREE


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April 4, 2013

Can we speak of ‘the feminisation’ of football?

Guest contribution by Carole Ponchon, international events and campaign manager  (

No one can deny that women are still trying to find their place in the typically masculine domain of a sport like football. In fact, seen from the perspective of ‘hegemonic masculinity’, sport is a social structure that serves to reproduce and rebuild the male dominance by (over)highlighting ‘skills’ such as strength, power or aggression. And football has long been a proud ambassador of these representations… After all, it has always been celebrated as a predominantly working-class male preserve and it was only in early 1971 that UEFA passed a motion (which became an official recommendation in November 1971) in favour of member countries taking control of women’s football.

How many of us would have bet on such an evolution five years ago?

For some die-hard traditionalists, thinking about the ‘feminisation of football’ may actually sound provocative.

Promotion for the recent CL quarter final Lyon vs Malmö.

What do we mean by ‘feminisation’? Oxford Dictionaries define the verb feminise as ‘make (something) more characteristic of or associated with women’, other sources define feminisation as ‘the development of female characteristics in a male’.

Can we apply this to football? To me it seems the term makes sense if we consider two main trends: on the one hand, women investing the predominantly all-male football sphere, on the other hand, society being more interested in women football.

Women’s growing appetite for football

Women have shown a growing appetite for sport and football in the last decade and have become great consumers of sport content and sport activities. For example, in Germany there have been more women than men watching the national team’s games since the UEFA EURO 2008! As for sport in general it is also of interest to point out that even if Loechner (2005) showed that online sports destinations are still frequented more by males (62%) than females (38%), there was, according to Sports Sites Traffic (2009), significantly greater growth in sports website traffic for females (37%) than for males (21%) between 2007 and 2008.

Women have things to say about football. It is not a surprise to me that a third of the respondents to Mariana De Carvalho’s study (presented on this blog in a previous post)  were women and girls!

At top decision making level, role models have emerged over the last years. Former German player Steffi Jones, is now the new UEFA ambassador for Women’s Football and the Karen Espelund from Norway has become the first women to be a member of the UEFA Executive Committee (since March 2011).

Last but not least, women want to play the game! Data provided by national federations clearly highlight an increasing number of women and girls playing football. Actually in many European countries it is even growing faster than its male counterpart and represents the fastest growing sector. The FIFA Big Count surveys indicate that between 2000 and 2006 overall participation in football increased by 9% across FIFA’s (then) 207 member associations, with male participation increasing by 8% and female participation increasing by 19%. As for the enlarged Europe covered by UEFA, the survey reported an overall increase of female participation. While in 2000, women and girls represented only 5,78% of the overall participants, in 2006 they were already representing 10,32% of the football players.

A growing interest for women’s football

For football governing bodies women football has become a market with serious promises of growth. It is noteworthy that this trend does not concern only the federations having ‘problems’ with the men’s team’s image (as it is the case in France) but also those whose men’s team enjoys continuous popularity. This is for example the case of the Gabonese Federation, building on the success of the male team –which reached the CAN2012 quarter final – to invest in the development of women football through special training for potential trainers).

The aim of such investments – not matter whether they are focused on the improvement of image or on the development of practice – seems to be to build on a momentum and secure the development of the game while contributing to closing the gap between men and women.

This can be seen throughout Europe. For example the 2005 Report on the Reform of Scottish Football saw ‘women’s game as a key aspect of Scottish Football’s future’ (Scottish Parliament Enterprise and Culture Committee) and the English FA recently invested £6m into the Women’s Superleague (WSL) – a new elite, semi-professional summer league for women’s football created in 2011 – in order to encourage more females to take up the sport while making it more attractive.

2012 marked the first time when the UEFA Champions League final was organised in the same city for both women and men, which has of course mainly symbolic value, but symbols count.

Of course these trends among governing bodies comes along with a growing interest of the economic sphere. Women’s football does indeed represent an untapped market and television channels start to be interested in it. While it was confidential (or considered as such) few years ago, nowadays women football has truly become an appealing product for a growing audience. Eurosport’s decision to cover women football in France is promoted with the slogan ‘No. 1 broadcaster of women’s football’ and with video teasers that would be worth a blogpost in their own right.  This is in line with the choice of ESPN to partner with the FA in order to obtain the broadcasting rights of the above-mentioned WSL (games are regularly televised live alongside a weekly highlights package).

There is other evidence:

- in 2011 the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany was the most tweeted sport event in history;
- a year and a half prior to this World Cup, sponsorship packages were already sold out;
- a French women’s national team game (France-Wales on 4 April 2012, qualification for the EURO 2013) was able to compete with two Champion’s League quarter final games in terms of tv ratings, while the Champions League quarter-final Malmö-Lyon recently had over half a million viewers on a Saturday night (5 March);
- 5 days ahead of the 2012 Women’s Champions League Final organised in Munich, more than 40 000 tickets were already sold… and in the end a record attendance of 50 212 spectators was reached.

How many of us would have bet on such an evolution five years ago?

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