#MeToo at the FIFA Women’s World Cup: Sexual Harassment on the Global Scale
#MeToo at the Women's World Cup Brings Instances of Gender Discrimination to the Forefront of World Sports
Comparing the Women’s Cup to the Men’s has brought about a number of blatantly unfair practices that show how the sport undervalues women players - vastly different pay scales, playing conditions that are not up to the mark, and differences in the way the players are treated. While the 2019 WWC has seen international soccer take strides ahead, there are fissures in the foundation already. Asiaville has already reported on the gender discrepancies and inequalities within the FIFA World Cup. The FIFA World Cup is now facing a #MeToo wave.
The FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia had a series of well documented instances of sexism. Take, for example, the fact that the Argentine football federation published a section on “How to Pick Up Russian Women” in its pre-tournament guide for staff and journalists. Getty Images also had to make a public apology for publishing and featuring a Photogallery titled “World Cup 2018: The Sexiest Fans”, which was called out for the objectification, dehumanisation, and commodification of women.
Also consider the multiple instances of female journalists covering the World Cup facing sexual abuse and even on screen harassment - as in the case of Julieth Gonzalez Theran. Theran was reporting for a German broadcaster when a man in the crowed groped her and made unwelcome advances - all caught on camera. This incident in particular left thousands calling for more respect for female sports journalists.
This came in the context of the fact that of the 16,000 journalists accredited to cover the World Cup, only 14% were women. Gonzalez Theran then took to social media, to highlight this discrimination. She wrote, “We do not deserve this treatment. We are equally as professional and deserving. I share the joy of football but we must identify the limits between affection and harassment”. Hers is not the only instance of female sports reporters facing sexual assault while reporting for their jobs.
However, let’s pivot to the 2019 WWC. Just as the World Cup matches are gaining full swing, a Vice President of FIFA, the governing body running the matches, has been accused of abusing his power over a female employee after she rebuffed his romantic and sexual advances in 2017. The alleged abuse of power was followed by sexual claims that the same individual sexually harassed several other women.
Similarly, in May, a judicial investigation began in Gabon following claims that the country’s under-20 women’s team members were raped and mistreated by FIFA staff members during a tournament in France.
Ada Hegerberg, who holds the unofficial title of “The Best Player in Soccer”, and who was awarded the "Footballer of the Year" title in 2017 and 2019 by BBC, has been on strike demanding gender neutrality since 2017. When she won the inaugural Ballon D’Or in 2018, she was asked by the host to “twerk” upon receiving her award. Visibly rendered awkward, Hegerberg just said no. At a later time, she said “I didn’t really consider it sexual harassment or anything in the moment”, brushing the incident off as most of us would. However, the incident, couched in other forms of gender based discrimination within football, clearly left its mark on her. She subsequently became the face of the #TimeForAction Movement, organised by the Union of European Football Associations, protesting the disparity in pay, conditions, and recognition between the men’s and women’s leagues.
The objectification of female players, female journalists, and women all around around is endemic in sports. Of course, spirits run high, adrenaline is pumping, and things tend to get out of control. But there needs to be a global overhaul on what is considered acceptable behaviour towards women in any situation.
It’s as easy as this - would you do this to a man? Is the woman in question rendered uncomfortable by your actions? Have you sought her consent? If your answer to any of these questions is no, then you need to take a step back.
It seems like these stories of assault just never come to an end. It sometimes gets overwhelming, just looking at the volume of sexual assault claims in sports. But it also happens to be an issue that can be resolved - just think, think before you act. The end is as easy as that.
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