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Fair Play? Analysing gender inequality in football

Craig Gelling

21st September 2022

Are football’s failing finances to blame for inequality between the men’s and women’s game.

Back in the summer, English football fans flocked to Wembley to witness the first major trophy won by an English football team since 1966. But it wasn’t the men’s team that restored pride to English football, but rather England’s Lionesses that took home the coveted European Championship – just 12 months after the men’s team failed at the final hurdle. A record crowd of 87,192 crammed into Wembley stadium to witness the achievement and new hope was born for the women’s game in the UK.

As the Women’s Super League kicks off this weekend, it raises an issue of gender equality in ‘beautiful game’ in England. Despite the Lionesses victory being the record attendance for an England international game, there are many disparities between the men’s and women’s games. Despite England being one of several nations that have the same bonuses for non-tournament performance for the men’s and women’s teams, there are many other differences. The prize money for Euro 2022 was a record breaking £13.7 million pounds, yet this pales in comparison to the £315 million pounds prize money for Euro 2020 in the men’s game. England and Chelsea star Fran Kirby is thought to be the highest paid women’s footballer, earning around £300,000 a year – which is less than men’s stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohammed Salah and Erling Haaland earn in a week.

While many point to the differences in attendances between the men’s and women’s game – in 2021 the average attendance for the WSL was 2,200 – similar to that of many clubs in the fourth tier of men’s football – and the higher commercial demand for the men’s game, a report from Fair Game, in association with the University of Portsmouth has suggested other reasons for the differences. The report - The Gender Divide That Fails Football’s Bottom Line – suggests that the failing economic models of many football clubs are to blame for a failure to invest in the women’s game.

An interesting issue to debate with your students as to whether it is patriarchal society or simple economics that causes the differences in men’s and women’s football. You may also ask whether the appeal of the Lionesses’ victory was linked to national identity, with the women’s game at international level having far more appeal than at club level.

You can read a summary of the report here or an expanded explanation from the University of Portsmouth here.

Craig Gelling

Craig is an experienced Sociology teacher and examiner and is known as The Sociology Guy on social media. Craig helps design and deliver tutor2u Sociology CPD courses and student exam workshops.

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