In women’s football, “mentalities are ready for investments to be made”

This is an all-match record for a Euro combined for women and men. 87,192 spectators attended the final between England and Germany on Sunday July 31, won by the “Lionesses” at Wembley Stadium. On television, TF1 won 24.1% audience share by broadcasting the match.

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This is not the first time that women’s sport has sparked thanks (finally) to its promotion. Last April, 91,648 supporters gathered at the Camp Nou in Barcelona for the semi-final first leg of the Champions League between Barça and Wolfsburg (5-1). “L’Obs” takes stock of the situation of women’s football in France with Béatrice Barbusse, sports sociologist and author of “Du sexisme dans le sport”.

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Wembley Stadium was full on Sunday evening, more than 43,000 people at the Parc des Princes last May… Are we finally witnessing the coronation of women’s football?

It depends on what you mean by sacred. What is certain is that this validates a positive dynamic that began a few years ago with records like at Wembley but also in France and around the world. The high level sport practiced by women, when it is visible, it attracts.

Now, is this the coronation of women’s football? The expression is a little too strong. It just confirms that it can be enjoyed as much as men’s football. And that there is a place, more generally, for high-level women’s sport.

Can this change be supported by the public authorities?

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The only lever of action for the public authorities would be to force the French Football Federation (FFF) to invest more through the agreement it is negotiating with the Ministry of Sports. But public subsidies represent less than 5% of the FFF’s budget. The clubs and the federation are private associations: the room for maneuver today such as the regulations are made, such as the law is made, is tiny.

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It is the responsibility of the FFF and the clubs to invest in women’s football. And it would require a very substantial investment as there may have been in England [en mars 2017, un vaste de plan d’investissement a été initié en Angleterre par les clubs, la fédération et les autorités, ndlr]. They put the means, the clubs put the means: it allowed them, the women’s clubs, to structure themselves, to have an English championship at the height and which prepares the girls well. In the French championship, most teams manage and tinker as they can with some public subsidies and some partners. Concretely, if we put 100 euros for the boys, it would be necessary to put 200 or 300 for the girls.

Today, the mentalities of French society are sufficiently ready for investments to be made: people will come and see, people will watch, people will read great stories. Journalists, companies, sports leaders must do their part. It started but you can’t stop: you have to pound the pavement every day.

Are we behind on this issue in France?

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Football comes from England originally. There is therefore a culture, like in the United States, of investment, where entrepreneurs do not hesitate to invest millions or even billions. France is not a sporting country! The teams struggle to find private partners. With a few exceptions like Jean-Michel Aulas at Olympique Lyonnais or Louis Nicollin at Montpellier. Today, it’s not only the federations that have to show voluntarism, it’s also the companies. They all talk about CSR and say that they are responsible… Now we have to demonstrate it and stop investing in the same place for 100 years.

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In fact, the clubs are tinkering to have a changing room for the girls, to have a time slot so that they can play football… They lack sports equipment, changing rooms for the girls, trainers… The amount of bonuses and wages is also extremely different between women and men because “it pays less”. In football, questions of morality, justice and fairness do not come into play since it is the economy that makes the choice. And the economy, especially capitalist, is absolutely not moral. The money goes where it counts, point to line.

French footballers also need to raise their voices. In the United States, wages are now equal between women and men. But because they fought! They said “Let’s fucking go”, we get up and we go! In France, they say ” thank you “. I’m not saying stop saying ” thank you “, but we must stop giving alms. And yes, if we invest more in girls, the wages of boys will decrease. But they have gained so much in 100 years…

Is it even more difficult for women to find a place in football than in any other sport?

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Yes. It is linked to the place that football holds in the ecosystem of sport. And even in the world in general: FIFA has more members than the UN! Football institutions are run by men who make very timid decisions when it comes to developing women’s football. It would be relevant to ask the FFF a question: how much of your budget of more than 260 million do you spend on girls and how much on boys? From amateurs to the top.

Of course, little girls also have to play football. There are nearly 200,000 licensees today, but they need to be trained with competent people. However, very often, the more diplomas you have, the more qualified you are and the more you want to train boys, not girls, because it is still not very rewarding today. That’s all that needs to be changed.

How to respond to sexist remarks on questions of physics, level, etc. ? They are sometimes so integrated that even female fans prefer to watch men’s football

The “bad gaze” (Male gaze, editor’s note) was imposed on us. Even we, as female football fans, have internalized that. You have to deconstruct by watching women’s football and you end up not making any more comparisons: whether it’s one or the other, you’re just watching a beautiful sporting spectacle.

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Everything also goes through the education of children. 3 weeks ago I tried to get 7-9 year olds to play football, boys and girls together. And the boys were already refusing to play with the girls…

To deal with sexist remarks, there are no rules. Sometimes I do pedagogy, sometimes I don’t have the energy. This kind of remarks have been around for centuries, that’s why we are kept in a position of inferiority because of supposedly our physical vulnerability, our biological inferiority… Lots of studies and surveys have shown that our vulnerability is socially constructed and not real. Women win ultratrails in front of men, are sometimes more enduring, suffer when they give birth but, for some, we will always remain small vulnerable beings. It suits them well, it gives them a protective role. As long as we don’t manage to completely deconstruct these gender stereotypes that are twenty centuries old, we will always have these remarks. The bottom line is that these sexist people are in the minority.

Interview by Manon Bernard

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