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  • Helena Dias

The 2023 Women's World Cup: Media and Scandals Still Prove the Existence of Sexism in Soccer.

From the beating of audience records to an unexpected kiss, the 2023 Women's World Cup gave us a lot to talk about. The ninth edition of the WWC occurred in Australia, where 32 nations competed for the title that Spain eventually brought home in a 1-0 finals win against England.During the month of competition, the audience of the games was a surprise: although it does not come even close to the number of fans who watched the last Men's cup, this year's tournament broke multiple records regarding the crowds. When compared to how women’s football started, this World Cup is a testament to how the sport has evolved and grown for our ladies. However, scandals like a forced kiss or the absence of monarchy proved that sexism is still real within the sport.

In the year of 1895, Nettie Honeyball founded the first ever girl's football team, the British Ladies Football Club, to prove that women were not "ornamental and useless". From the start, the players were highly criticized for trying to engage with a "men's game", and, although a lot of people were interested, many believed that when the novelty had worn off, that people would not give attention to women's football. After the team's first-ever match opinions were divided, and, while some stated that the women lacked ability to play the sport, others were supportive and gave credit for the women’s knowledge of the game.

After that, despite the many criticisms and the British Ladies Football Club’s pioneerism, girls’ soccer continued to grow, reaching a peak during WWI in England: in 1920, 53,000 fans attended a match, which was impressive and a record at the time. But, soon after that, the Football Association (FA) banned women from playing football because it was “unsuitable” and “unsafe”, leading to fifty years in which females were not allowed to play the sport.

In 1970 the first unofficial Women’s World Cup occurred in Italy; the competition attracted a massive audience, reaching more than 100,000 spectators in one game. This was a fresh start for the modality and an indicator that women had potential to excel in the sport. 21 years later, in 1991, the first official WWC happened in China, and since then has continued happening every four years -- one year after the men's tournament. Today, the event is much more organized and well-known;the 2023 tournament was incomparable to the one 32 years ago in terms of public attention, equipment modernity, and investment.

The long years of fighting for improvement of the WWC were worth it, because this year’s championship broke multiple world records. The first record established was directly from Brazil, by the streamer Casemiro. With his channel, CazéTv, the YouTuber now holds the biggest audience ever in a women's game on YouTube -- twice. The Brazilian streamer surpassed the record for the first time in the match Brazil against Panama, withmore than one million people watching. Weeks later CazéTv beat its own record:the match Brazil against France achieved 1.2 million watchers, in what is today the biggest audience in a women's game in the history of the platform. The 2023 WWC also made history in Australia, where it was hosted: there, the record for the number of people attending the Women’s World Cup was beaten. Before this year, the record was from the 2015 edition in Canada, attended by about 1.35 million people; this year, however, over 1.9 million fans were present in the games. These impressive numbers demonstrate the growth of women's football in recent years.

Although we can see a big increase in media attention for the modality, it still does not come close to the audience of the men's cups. Last year, Globo had about 70 million spectators per Brazil game in the FIFA World Cup. On another hand, this year the network reached about 11.5 million viewers per game of the Brazilian women's team. In addition, despite the fact that the 1.9 million-people-audience of the WWC was unseen before, the 2022 edition of the men's tournament attracted 3.4 million fans to the stadiums of Qatar. These huge differences between the two tournaments lead to a much less significant funding regarding sponsors. While FIFA made US$ 1.7 billion (R$ 8.3 billion) from sponsors for the men's championship, they only added up to US$ 300 million (R$ 1.4 billion) for the women's.

Besides the lack of audience compared to the Men's World Cup, sexism was also evident in the 2023 WWC through an unwanted kiss in the finals. During celebrations for Spain's win, the then-head of Spain’s football federation forcibly kissed the midfielder Jenny Hermoso. Luis Rubiales’s behavior caused a complete scandal and sparked an international debate about sexism. The player described the action as "an impulse-driven, sexist, out-of-place act without any consent on my part." Despite being highly criticized, Rubiales stood by the fact that it was consensual and not a sexist gesture, he stated that it was “spontaneous, mutual, euphoric and consensual." However, this excuse was not enough for FIFA, which suspended him and barred him from any contact with Jenny Hermoso. After almost a month since the end of the Cup, Luis Rubiales resigned from his position and is currently being investigated by the police for sexual assault.

While the head of the Spanish football federation created a scandal with a controversial kiss, the president of the British's Football Association didn't even give himself the trouble of attending the finals. Although the Lionesses went into the final, there were no British monarchy members present at the game. Prince William, who is not only the heir of the British crown but also the president of the British's FA, did not travel to Sydney because the flight would increase his carbon's footprint. To make up for his absence, William posted a video with his daughter wishing the Lionesses good luck and apologizing for not attending. Fans are speculating that if the game was a men's match the prince would not have trouble traveling to the other side of the world to attend. Besides Prince William, King Charles and his wife, Camilla, also did not go to the match -- because they had to visit church. On the other hand, both Spain's Queen Letizia and her 16-year-old daughter attended the game and watched their country proudly raise the cup.

The 2023 Women's World Cup was a crucial event, but one that also raised many controversial topics for discussion. Although women’s football is growing significantly, there is still a lot of sexism within the sport internationally. It is crucial for society to overcome this problem and start giving women a greater place not just in football but in all sports. This year, there was an undeniable improvement because of the viewership and audience records; however, they are still not even close to what we see when it comes to men. Something has to be changed.

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