From rights infringements to outright misogyny, women's soccer still faces hurdles the men's game doesn't

·4 min read
Morocco's players celebrate their upset of Nigeria in the semifinals of the Women's Africa Cup of Nations this month. (AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
Morocco's players celebrate their upset of Nigeria in the semifinals of the Women's Africa Cup of Nations this month. (AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

You couldn't go anywhere in the world this past week and not be enthralled by women's soccer.

The U.S. defeated Canada's Olympic champions 1-0 in the CONCACAF W championship in Monterrey, Mexico. By virute of the win, the Americans solidified a spot at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, but Canada can still make it if it defeats Jamaica in a single-game qualifier in 2023. Both teams, as well as Jamaica and Costa Rica, also qualified for next year's Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Across the pond, Europe has the Women's Euros, a major tournament featuring top teams such as England, France, Spain, Italy and Sweden. There has been much attention and highly deserved media coverage of the women's Euros. And as expected, the orange waves of fans representing the Netherlands are out in full force.

Africa is heading toward an exciting final at WAFCON that will see host Morocco face South Africa in the championship game. In addition, Morocco, South Africa and nine-time champions Nigeria have qualified for the Women's World Cup, as did Zambia for the first time.

Part of how we know that the women's game is growing and developing is to see new nations like Zambia compete. As older dynasties loosen their grip, fresh teams and lesser-known programs enter the fold. This is a part of expanding the sport and offering joy and opportunities while inspiring young boys and girls from all over the world.

While this is exciting on many levels, the darker sides of women's football, including politics, body policing and exclusion, and mismanagement of federations still plague the women's game.

Despite the full stadiums across England for the Women's Euros, UEFA said that the women's game was attacked online this month. Soccer's European governing body monitored social media and there were almost 300 abusive posts. Italy, England, Spain and France were the most targeted. The posts were marinated in sexism, racism and homophobia. While they did not always target specific players, the commentary was crude and alarming.

As women continue to fight for their rights within football, including fair pay and transparency in governance, they are also battling misogyny while expected to simultaneously compete at the highest level of play.

In Canada, as the women's team was playing in the CONCACAF W tournament, both senior national teams released a statement in the wake of a story by TSN's Rick Westhead on the financial malaise of the Canadian federation and their decision to partner with Canadian Soccer Business (CSB), a marketing agency.

For the women, the lack of leadership has been a constant an issue in Canada. When Canadian soccer stalwart Diana Matheson retired, she talked about building a sustainable women's league in Canada, the only FIFA nation ranked in the top 10 that doesn't have a domestic women's league. That's a failure of the federation and the country.

With questions arising around leadership and corporate partnerships, players who should only be worrying about how to win now have to worry about who is in the boardrooms making decisions that have significant impact on their lives.

Women's players face challenges all the time and manage to carve out careers and get to the podium in spite of the lack of support at top levels.

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

Gender testing a violation of human rights

Zambia qualified for the Women's World Cup but was forced to do so without their star player, Barbara Banda. Banda was the breakout star at the Tokyo Olympics and scored two hat tricks during the tournament. Banda was forced to undergo "gender testing," an antiquated process to determine whether her testosterone levels met the requirements of the federation so she could compete.

Human Rights Watch confirmed that this type of testing is a violation of human rights and should not be permitted, and goes against FIFA's policy of discrimination based on gender. Of course, we rarely see this type of flagrant testing on the men's side. It is a clear attempt to control women's bodies and exclude them from the game. What's even more worrisome is like many oppressive and discriminatory policies in sport, these policies are often established by men in boardrooms with little knowledge of the realities that women's athletes face and rules are arbitrarily implemented.

Women's football is reaching peak levels and it is important to remain critical and question the people in the upper echelons.

We can remain supportive of our women athletes while asking for transparency and fairness in the governance of women's soccer. There is a way to stay positive and support the players, and attend the games but also ask for better leadership and proper management of the systems that hold women's teams. Accountability and transparency are necessary to improve the opportunities for all footballers while growing the beautiful game.

Soccer deserves it. The players most certainly do.

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