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Football: A powerful platform to promote respect, equality, and inclusion!

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Also available in: العربية

Less than a year before the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and over one month after the final match of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Vancouver, BC, I would like to share and focus my reflections on the Women’s World Cup, mostly emphasizing the social psychology and sociological milieu around the match as it was extensively covered by all media.

 FIFA Women's World Cup 2015“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” Maya Angelou

In the past, I had the privilege of being present at multiple global sporting events around the world in many capacities, but I had never attended an event as a spectator until the final match between USA and Japan on Sunday, July 5 at BC Place Stadium. Women’s sport is very close to my heart as I had the privilege of managing my daughter’s junior and collegiate tennis career for almost ten years. Nevertheless, I was very excited to find myself in a new role as a part of the overwhelmingly American crowd of 53,341. On that day, a golden haze from wildfires blanketed the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver, BC, perhaps due to the 16-year US winning drought at the Women’s World Cup! However, during the 90 minutes of playing time and finishing strong with a winning score of 5-2, the US team extinguished the flames within the boundaries of the football pitch substituting golden smog with flashy golden confetti, a golden trophy, and gold medals around their necks at the award ceremony.
This summer has seen North America pleasantly packed with global sporting events. First we had the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, then the Pan-American and Parapan-American Games in Toronto. In between, there were the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, and coming in late September, the City of Richmond will be hosting the UCI Cycling Road Championships. One would wonder what these events have in common… The answer is relatively simple. In all of these events, female athletes play either the main role or a shared role as competitors. I am very cautious with the usage of the term “equal participation” as we hear some critics voicing their opinions. During and after the Women’s World Cup some complaints were raised about the artificial turf.  Others complained that the opposing teams were staying in the same hotel, and that offensive comments about player’s appearances had been made. There were also comments about paltry financial rewards for women athletes as compared to the Men’s World Cup.  But on the day of the final in the packed-to-the-brim BC Place, no one was thinking about these shortcomings.

One of the leading advocates of sport for girls and women is the current President of the IOC, Thomas Bach. The founder of the Modern Olympic Movement, French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, initially opposed competitive sports for girls and women, by stating in 1896: “No matter how toughened a sportswoman may be, her organism is not cut out to sustain certain shocks,” but later changed his opinion. Since then, gender equality in sports has come a long way, including UNESCO recognizing sports and physical activity as a human right in 1978. FIFA is adding a tremendous boost in promotion of the sport among females before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France with its program “Live Your Goals” by aiming to increase the number of girls and women playing football worldwide from 30 to 45 million. At UCI’s events’ (World Championships/World Cups) individual prize money at its competitions is equal between men and women. UCI is even experimenting with co-ed cycling competitions while also investing significantly in televising women’s cycling to promote it worldwide. The New York Road Runners’ the organizer of the New York City Marathon is in this pack of prize equalizers and is supported unconditionally by all fifty thousand fellow-participants. Obviously, the sport of tennis with the US Open’s equal prize money for men and women trail blazed as a pioneer in this regard just to name a few.
On Sunday morning, July 5, I found myself in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Vancouver, BC, which is still enjoying the post-Olympic legacy in every possible aspect. The entire city was besieged by football lovers, mostly females accompanied by their friends and families. At my hotel’s breakfast, I noticed that there was a vivid difference between the would-be-spectators. The first group came to Vancouver to indulge themselves in luxury hotels with an exquisite breakfast while chatting via their e-devices. Their body language suggested that cost was not an object. The second group went for a run before breakfast either with their parents (mostly fathers), partners or just by themselves. They probably didn’t want to lose a day of practice or this was their way of celebrating this very special day. The third group, and unfortunately there was a significant number of them, were current players who were injured moving on crutches with ankles or knees in braces or casts. The last group contained individuals, families, and groups of former football players who came to rejuvenate their passion for sport. Again in most cases, they all wore red-white-and-blue jerseys or T-shirts. It was a very impressive and empowering view on the streets and stadium.
Vancouver Football FestivalI invited two men who love football and sport, and who were extremely excited to be a part of this event, to accompany me. On our way from the Vancouver World Trade Center to the match venue, we were trying to absorb and prepare as much as possible for the match. Two blocks away from BC Place, we noticed a very interesting event in the Andy Livingstone Park saturated with many small football pitches. As we later learned from the organizers, it was the final leg of the Vancouver International Soccer Festival, where co-ed teams were competing against each other. We spent a couple of hours watching the matches and talking with players and organizers who were extremely proud and happy to share their story with us. I must admit that the view of seeing female and male footballers playing on the same team was very impressive and heartwarming. After the matches they were hanging out together, and talking in harmony about upcoming games in the tournament. With 11 players, football undoubtedly has a tremendous potential to set perfectly inclusive competitions for all genders. 
After leaving the co-ed tournament, while walking the last two blocks towards the BC Place, I noticed that the stadium is adjacent to Rogers Arena, the home of the NHL Vancouver Canucks, which explains the final score of 5-2: both teams started to score goals such as in hockey. The location must have been contagious to the players’ desire to score!
About one hour before the first kick, somehow I realized that losing this match for the US team was not an option. With the overwhelming number of red-white-and-blue spectators, mostly young girls and their parents, the expected outcome was extremely clear. Sporadically you could see the flags of Japan, but it was like looking at small islands in the Pacific Ocean. The noise from the drums and the cheers were just beyond imagination. As a newcomer, I learned my lessons the hard way as well. After loud celebrations of each goal from the US team, I lost my voice for a few days, forgetting that when you cheer for your team along with over fifty thousand other fans it is very difficult to assess your own voice’s contribution! 
As mentioned before, two gentlemen accompanied me, and we sat in a section with Japanese officials and sponsors, also males with plenty of “Mr. T” lookalikes. Before the match, I asked the Japanese officials to take a photo with me, and then we wished each other good luck and started to watch the game. I must admit that my match neighbors from Japan took each lost goal with full dignity and their attitude was seamless from the outside. It was nice to share the match experience with them, and it was a good prognosis before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. We all were passionately drawn into this amazing spectacle full of drama and emotion. During the 15-minute break, we were able to learn about the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour from one of the sponsors, which we had not previously been aware of.
Why was this event so special to me? This Women’s World Cup has been a stage of magnificence, free of brutal fouls, and nail-biting soccer: the best of the beautiful game you can wish for as an enthusiast. It has also been an opportunity for me to observe where we are on the question of the sport’s global development regarding the level playing field and international gender politics. In my evening post-match intellectual revisit, I realized that I was not watching 22 females kicking a ball; instead I was watching 22 athletes who wanted to win the match and trophy of their dreams for their teams and countries. Not even for a moment did I think about gender equality.  I was just deeply sucked into the match. What a fantastic sporting spectacle it was! Perhaps these athletes intangibly pointed out the direction of the future development of global sporting events.
In 2004 during the Paralympic Games in Athens, I had the opportunity to interview the President of the International Paralympic Committee, Sir Philip Craven, who told me then that the Paralympic Games are a great opportunity to exhibit the individual character of athletes with disabilities. Since then we have seen a steady reverse course for full inclusion of the Olympic and Paralympic Movements. Female athletes from all over the world earned a well-deserved place in global sports through their passion and dedication, but the beautiful game might be an avenue for a different and new type of social if not global inclusion and equality for sport “she-roes.” The number 11 can be a new lucky number for all genders to delight and thrill the world to an even greater degree than it has already been presented in Canada!

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Photographs are the author's own work


Submitted by Kaung Thant on

Watched the game from home. Wished I had the chance to attend it in person. Thank you for sharing the atmosphere with us.

Submitted by Brenda Breve on

Great article, I always love soccer and specially seeing women playing it makes me so proud of myself as a women that we are also being part of sports that were always played by men only.

Submitted by francis on

Yes this is a great article indeed .
This shows that soccer is a recipe for unifucation. What men can do , women can do better .

Submitted by Bethel Berhane on

When it comes to gender equality, I am a strong believer in women being just as capable as men. It’s fairly uncommon to see co-ed sports teams on a professional level, but when they do exist, it's a truly marvelous sight. This article reminded me of an event that occurred this past February. During the 2015 Super Bowl, the controversial “like a girl” commercial really struck my interest. Growing up, my mother always compared my running to my sister’s. My sister was the one who “ran like a true athlete” while I was the one who “ran like a girl.” Clearly my mother was not thinking in the sociological perspective because what does running "like a girl" even mean? I imagined myself as an olympic marathon runner each time my feet came off the ground but the minute I was criticized, it put a dent in my moment. I admire that the commercial assisted in eradicating the “like a girl” phrase. It’s a narrow mindset that is strongly influenced by one’s society and social location.

I found this article quite intriguing, especially since I will be attending the UCI cycling event in Richmond this weekend and I plan to attend the 2018 World Cup. Thank you for sharing this piece, I am extremely motivated to apply sociology to the sporting events I’ll be attending soon.

Submitted by Damaris Nyakundi on

I am not a soccer fan or a sports fan at that matter, but reading this article gave me a look into the female soccer world through the eyes of a soccer fan and sports fan. The fact that gender equality is shown through sports is an amazing thing. The large number of people who came to support a female sport event in the beautiful city of Vancouver is heartwarming. The unity of people from different countries and cultures can be seen through the writer’s eye, which gives the reader a real life experience. Thanks for sharing the experience with us.

Submitted by Viviana Toloza on

As a former female football player I am aware of the increased inclusion of female and people with disabilities (minorities) into the sport field. It has been a long road, but it has shown positive results. Everyday women and people with disabilities have been noticing the positive outcomes of enrolling and participating in sports at professional level, and they are joining sports more often than before. Nowadays, the society in general seems so open minded and welcoming that looking back to the exclusion to the minorities in sports sounds difficult to believe. However, It is important to highlight that if it is true that sport and its mission have evolved, there are significant steps that have to be done before it becomes an space for athletes rather than female, male, or disabled sportspeople competition.In fact, it requires everyone effort, it means public and private organizations giving equality of opportunities and inversions to sport events.Furthermore, it requires that every single memberof our society understand the importance of inclusion in every field.

Submitted by Huanhuan Sun on

Gender equality is more and more important in our life. As I know, people usually think women cannot do such power's thing. Also, there are all kinds of rules for us. However, the situation has changed. For example, the name of firemen has changed to firefighters. This means the job which men do, women can also do it, too. Like the sports, women can also be a excellent athlete. I enjoy watching sport game, I hope I can see more female athletes play sports.Our society should give more opportunities to female to change the world view.

Submitted by Tuyen Thai on

This is such a great article. I have never been a fan of sports and soccer in particular. Being atheletic and playing sport is just not what I am capable of. Also, it has always been in my mind that sports are for men because it consists of mostly strength and stamina which most females are lacked of. However, throughout reading this article, there is one line that has changed my mind in some ways about gender equality and sports. It says "I realized that I was not watching 22 females kicking a ball; instead I was watching 22 athletes who wanted to win the match and trophy of their dreams for their teams and countries." I think this is a great line because it shows that being a female does not mean you can't be an athelete.

Submitted by Sean Card on

My father would always say playing sports will teach you valuable lessons and make you a better person. But as a kid being dragged to practices and games after school and on the weekends I didn’t see how sports can be anything more than just a game. But looking back I’m glad I was given the opportunity to be a part of so many teams. Being a part of a team taught me to respect other people and their time regardless of their race, gender or age. Individuals must make sacrifices to be a part of a team and that wiliness to sacrifice is what unites teams. Sports, such as soccer, are great breeding grounds to promote respect and to look past differences because they create teams from individuals who sacrifice for each other in the pursuit of a common goal.

Submitted by Oscar Lopez on

I canbe a part of a match and play a game of any sport. One thing I cant stand is watching sports. I never been a fan of standing in front of the TV and watching sports, shows, news, or any other type of television programming. its good that some folks are opening their eyes to gender equality, but the stuff on tv is just a tiny percentage of people as a whole. I grew up roaming the streets at all time. To be honest, i am neutral to all views of gender equality. As i was growing up, i think it is more important to be who you want to be viewed as by other people. I grew up with 3 brothers. Im have no clue what its like growing up to be a female. I have never seen what it is like to raise a female. I remember growing up and playing basketball at the park, the females would always just stand on the side and watch us. Most, not all, females are accustomed to having a man do things for them. I dont blame them i think its something that they see happening in their house by parents. I don't disagree with it either because I am too like that. Even at work if i work with a female i would prefer to do the harder work and save the easy stuff for the female. Its in my nature. its how i grew up. Females should not be viewed any less than a man, but at the same time females should not lose that motherly tradition. To take care of the kids, keep the house clean, cook, and things like that. Its sad to see that most people growing up now will lose these traditions.

Submitted by matilda adu on

Gone are the days sports was meant for men only but these days to all. Although am not a sport fun, I have really learn alot from this article. It tells how intensive women are involved in sporting activities. Women are becoming more important in our societies lately and more involving in all types of careers and they even do it with much passion so our society should give more room and much opportunities to women. The writer also highlighted on the unity among people from different countries and culture, pointed out some direction of the future development of global sporting events.
Thank you so much for sharing and I pray that all this good points you have raised will be identified by all.

Submitted by Devika Gupta on

Gender equality is so important because it shows that no one is better than another. The USWNT beating Japan cause an uproar in confidence in many women's sports and self esteems. I'm a huge follower of the women national team. I watch every friendly, game, video, you name it, (watching one right now and writing at the same time as USA takes on Haiti). They've given me the confidence to go after what i believe because as Alex Morgan once said before, "Dream big, because dreams do happen".

p.s. I'm very jealous you saw the game live. I was at home screaming my lungs out with my family. Love the article!

Submitted by okonkwo onyekachi on

It is understandable that football foster unity. Female athletes is one of the tool used in recent times globally to cushion the effects and the negative impacts of gender inequality. The article has gone a long way to establish and serve as an eye-opener to the progress the female athlete is making in spite of societal disadvantage. A sport that was not meant for female now draws people all over the world. Also, the writer was able to drop a lot of insights, shared his heart, connect people who were not at the event on the growth and development of female athletes. It speak of unity, communication, diversity and the level of involvement. All in all, it was a great article which would serve as a means of awareness, advocacy, to the promote and give female athletes their desires place in the world.

Submitted by Angus Mackenzie on

I firmly agree with you that football, and team sports in general for that matter, fosters unity, loyalty and teamwork, all things that can be used by women across their lives in a range of disciplines. In spite of social disadvantages, it is good to see a continued push for further coverage and encouragement of female athletes. My blog, attempts to champion female athletes and the benefits of sport, I encourage people who feel strongly about achieving gender equality in sport check it out.

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