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Women play football - everywhere

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Barbara Unmüßig on the football ground with her father. © private

Barbara Unmüßig

By Barbara Unmüßig

Football – men's football, of course – strongly influenced my childhood. For years, I spent many a Sunday at a football match. My entire family was football crazy – and still is today. My father was exceptionally passionate about football; half his life was devoted to football. He was a star player in the village team all the way through to playing in the veterans’ team; he trained the youth players, battled against mole hills on the pitch and dictated the fortunes of the club as a member of the board. Played football with his son and daughter on the "yard". In the 1960s, it simply never occurred to me to play football myself. No role models, and no offers in sight from anywhere. There was no doubt that the son should step into father's shoes.

I have to admit that women's football had not been on my (gender-)political agenda. That changed dramatically ever since it became clear that the women's world cup was to take place in Germany. I only recently began discovering the sport: through playing and in its emancipatory potential. And I am enjoying this biographical bridge to the full and learning so much along the way.

Women play football – everywhere. But, under what conditions and since when have they been allowed to play? Can football really kick the ball towards more equality and self-determination? Will the football world cup in Germany truly write sport's history? Won't everything return back to normal after the world cup, with women's football continuing to go largely unnoticed? What gender stereotypes do we encounter – will they change through the emergence of new images, new aesthetics, more money for and in women's football?

The aim of the web dossier is to show that the teams come from every corner of the globe – Europe, North, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. Despite all the differences that may exist, the prejudices, challenges and barriers which women and girls are forced to overcome if they want to play football frequently overlap. It starts with the number of spectators: the numbers simply do not compare with those in the men's game. In Germany, the average gate at a Bundesliga match is 836 – as reported by Nicole Selmer. In Sweden, the average attendance is around 1,000 – topping the gate average in Europe. In the USA, the average gate is 3,500 at least. Internationals show greater promise by comparison: in 2011, a U20 match between Columbia and Brazil drew a crowd of 28,000! Here, too, the record is held by the USA: a total of 90,185 spectators watched the game in 1999 that saw the US women’s team become world champions.

A career in football?

Gates like this are very few and far between. These apart, women's football is a very private affair. Public broadcasting companies pay little to no attention to the game. Not even the results of the women's Bundesliga are televised. According to a study conducted in 2009, niche broadcaster Eurosport after all devoted 230 hours of its broadcasting time to women's football. The two major German public broadcasters, ARD and ZDF, managed a mere 45 hours. A change in media interest could incentivise sponsors to become involved. Across the globe, women's football clubs face the problem of not having sufficient money available. Making a career out of football and, overall, the professionalisation of women's football are still long shots. There are no enticing multi-million contracts, no lucrative advertising contracts, in short: only in the rarest of cases can women make a career out of football. The professionalisation of the sport is suffering as a result. In Nigeria, you need “a magnifying glass to track down sponsors”, as reported by Katrin Gänsler in her article. In Mexico, sponsoring comes about primarily through personal contacts; there is no advertising whatsoever. And even in the USA, where women's football is an established sport, women's football has been unable to become a mainstream media sport over time and is thus unable to market itself lucratively. In Germany, a few capped players, among them Fatmire Bajramaj, Babett Peter and Simone Laudehr, have opted to become army athletes to allow themselves to maintain the training regime required of a professional footballer, despite holding down a job.

The dilemma of sexualisation

The ground most commonly shared by women footballers across the globe is that they meet with prejudice and clichés. The most prominent prejudice they encounter is undoubtedly that of the lesbian footballer. Whether in Brazil, Mexico, Germany or Nigeria, the stereotyping of women footballers as lesbians is always present. Being met with such suspicion is doubly hard wherever homosexuality is a taboo subject or even forbidden, as is the case in Nigeria. But irrespective of this, role ascriptions exist and consequently bear heavy on those subjected to them. If nothing else, and whether they want to or not, it forces women footballers to deal with such stereotypes, role ascriptions and clichés. Masculine-looking women – the insinuated prototype lesbian – does not offer much marketing potential either. The vicious circle begins to form, as low marketing potential equates to low funds, and low funds restrict professionalisation.

The other side of the coin is that, instead of sports excellence, the attractiveness of the players becomes the focus of attention. Yet, no matter how important sponsoring might be for the professionalisation of women's football, sexist exploitation has no place here! The dilemma of femininity and professionalism is emphatically described by Nina Degele. After all, the boundary between allowing the outward attractiveness of women's footballers to overshadow their sporting prowess should not be crossed.

Not so long ago, toy manufacturer Mattel brought out Barbie dolls of Silvia Neid, the head coach of the German women's national team, and footballer Birgit Prinz. By all accounts, Birgit Prinz's enthusiasm for a doll depicting her with matchstick legs and turned-up nose was somewhat subdued. Understandably so, because Birgit Prinz does not like to be ascribed to any specific role. Football is what counts!

Women play football - everywhere

This leads directly to a central and fundamental common ground – the only ground that truly counts: women want to play football; women play football - everywhere. Irrespective of whether they're hobby players or professionals playing for a club or in a league. FIFA's world rankings for women's football list 126 nations. Here, women's football has become institutionalised, even though it is undoubtedly inadequately equipped and poorly organised in many places. But it enthuses and inspires many women and one or two men. The many articles and contributions in the dossier are testimony to this.

Happy reading! 


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