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From the Women´s Football World Cup to the Playground: The Gender Gap in Physical Activity and Sports

Women Football World Cup 2023
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown - Brazilian football player Marta Vieira da Silva

Did you notice it? From disparities in prize money to media coverage, the differences between the men’s and women’s tournaments are embarrassing.


[Amanda Fernandes is a physical education teacher by training.]


This year, Australia and New Zealand co-host the Women's Football World Cup, taking place from 20 July to 20 August 2023, and the differences between the men' and women' events are once again evident. For instance, while the 2022 FIFA Men's World Cup awarded more than $400 million, the prize money for the 2023 Women's World Cup is $152 million. Although there have been some improvements, such discrepancies perpetuate the notion that women's sports are of lesser value, undermining the achievements of the athletes.

Historically, women's sports have often been overlooked, objectified, and not given as much attention. The Women's World Cup started in 1991, which was about sixty years after the first men's tournament. Women have mainly encountered challenges in gaining recognition and opportunities to play sports, largely due to stereotypes and gender-based expectations. For example, in Brazil, women were banned from playing football and sports like water polo, rugby, and weightlifting between 1940 and 1979.

Sports are a reflection of our societies. They are not separate from the way we live, the social norms, and political contexts. When we talk about big sports events like the Football World Cup and their gender gap, we can learn a lot about public health issues too.


Professional footballers Marta Vieira da Silva, Megan Rapinoe and Alexia Putellas. Photos: UN Women/Ryan and Wikimedia Commons.

Schools as an opportunity to challenge stereotypes

For example, when we look at how physically active people are around the world, we see that girls tend to be less active than boys. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) studied data from 146 countries and found that this pattern holds true among teenagers almost everywhere, no matter the country's income or where it's located.

Various factors contribute to this gender gap in sports and physical activity. Girls are still discouraged from participating in certain sports due to concerns about fitting into societal stereotypes or feeling insecure about their body image. In some schools, physical education classes (where they exist) may not be adequately designed to accommodate the diverse interests and abilities of students, irrespective of their gender, leading some to feel excluded or uninterested. However, a critical perspective on physical education in schools can be an ideal opportunity to challenge these stereotypical gender roles in sports, creating a more inclusive environment from an early age.

More barriers: fear of harassment and household responsibilities

Safety can be another concern, especially in public spaces, and it could be linked to the fear of harassment or unwanted attention. Also, many women still take on the lead role in childcare and managing household responsibilities, often alongside paid work, making it challenging for them to engage in sports or physical activities regularly. To bridge the gap, we must address these barriers and support women to fully engage in sports and physical activity at all stages of life.

Legendary female football players

Let's draw inspiration from legendary players like Marta Vieira da Silva, Miraildes Maciel Mota (Formiga), Megan Rapinoe, Khalida Popal, Alexia Putellas, "Nettie Honeyball" and others who have risen as icons and inspired a new generation of athletes. We need to shape a future of true gender equality in physical activity and sports globally. The game is already underway!