Sociology of The World Cup – Gender Edition

Even before the World Cup started, FIFA drew quite a bit of criticism for this decision:

“Aids groups in South Africa have accused Fifa of banning the distribution of condoms at World Cup stadiums and other venues.

The Aids Consortium and other groups also criticised a block on the distribution of safe sex information at stadiums and fan parks, even though alcohol can be advertised.

South Africa has the world’s largest number of HIV carriers, with an estimated 5.7 million people infected – about one in every five adults. There are around 1,400 new HIV infections every day and nearly 1,000 Aids deaths.

This has prompted calls for a health initiative to prevent the virus spreading as hundreds of thousands of football fans pour into the country for the World Cup, which starts next Friday.”

In addition to the HIV issue, it is quite convenient for FIFA to ignore the amount of paid sex that will take place during the World Cup. Oh, let me guess, no condoms = no sex, right?

Then, there is also this: increases in domestic violence.

“A news report on domestic violence during the World Cup estimated that 20,000 people a week are victims of domestic violence in England — 20,00 people a week. A lot of the blame for abusive behavior during the World Cup is placed on alcohol; apparently, 21 million more pints will be consumed in Britain alone. But if this many people are abused regularly by their partners, than we can’t really place the blame on a few lousy soccer games and a few too many beers.

It’s good that precautions are being taken to warn people about potential increases in domestic violence during the World Cup, but at the same time I think it’s a) tragic that it takes an event of this magnitude to get people concerned about the dangers battered women face and b) tragic that, in England and in many other places, an event that can be as thrilling and positive as the World Cup so often ends up as the domain of frustrated, exaggerated machismo.”

But the real gender analysis of the World Cup has been done by Denis Colombi in a post on the subject (here). In this post, Colombi examines how much the World Cup is a masculine even. Most people would say “Duh” but that is simply a reflection of the fact that the dominant gender is largely invisible. Sure, one can see a lot of women cheering for their team but that is beside the point.

“Il y aurait long à dire sur tout ce que le football peut charrier de caricatures nationales et sur comment cela rendrait bénéfique sa pleine marchandisation – après tout, si les équipes n’étaient plus nationales, on pourrait se concentrer sur ce qui est, paraît-il, l’essence du sport, les efforts et le dépassement de soi. Mais ce n’est pas le propos. Quand bien même les tribunes des stades seraient-elles remplies de femmes, jeunes et moins jeunes, éructant, sous des perruques improbables et des maquillages qui ne le sont pas moins, slogans et chansons à la gloire des petits hommes qui s’agitent tout en bas – et je ne suis pas sûr qu’elles soient déjà si nombreuses que cela -, quand bien même, donc, cette coupe du monde n’en finirait pas d’être sexiste.”

The man can write, can he? So, women in the audience, but none on the field, not just as players, but as referees, coaches, team staff, photographers and media people and even analysts in the print and electronic media. Where the action is, it is an entirely masculine universe (for the French readers, one is reminded of Thierry Roland’s cro-magnon-esque remarks when his network hired the first woman in the football bureau).

As Colombi notes, George Orwell used to describe football as “war minus the shooting” (which is why it was so easy during the war in the former Yugoslavia for Arkan’s tigers to turn from club supporters to ethnic-cleansing militia) but whereas a few military have engaged in some efforts to integrate women, sport remains a highly segregated domain with their separate World Cups or Tours de France. Separate and unequal.

To this, Colombi expects that he will be accused of ignoring the “natural” differences in athletic abilities between men and women (and if something is “natural”, then, we should not try to change it, right?) ignoring that these differences are an end result rather than a starting point and that average differences do not equal universal differences.

So, let us not forget that the World Cup is a celebration of hyper-masculinity (how many blog posts already drooling over how hot players are) and women are only allowed on the sidelines, or as trafficked women to service the needs of men in the audience:

“Despite more than a dozen international conventions banning slavery in the past 150 years, there are more slaves today than at any point in human history. Slaves are those forced to perform services for no pay beyond subsistence and for the profit of others who hold them through fraud and violence. While most are held in debt bondage in the poorest regions of South Asia, some are trafficked in the midst of thriving development. Such is the case here in Africa’s wealthiest country, the host of this year’s World Cup. While South Africa invests billions to prepare its infrastructure for the half-million visitors expected to attend, tens of thousands of children have become ensnared in sexual slavery, and those who profit from their abuse are also preparing for the tournament. During a three-week investigation into human-trafficking syndicates operating near two stadiums, I found a lucrative trade in child sex. The children, sold for as little as $45, can earn more than $600 per night for their captors. “I’m really looking forward to doing more business during the World Cup,” said a trafficker. We were speaking at his base overlooking Port Elizabeth’s new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Already, he had done brisk business among the stadium’s construction workers.”

Also this:

Fortunately, there is some good news:

“The nonprofit Global Girl Media, which aims to empower high school-aged girls from under-served communities by teaching them about digital media and providing them the equipment and training to become digital journalists, has started a pretty awesome project called “Kick It Up!” for the 2010 World Cup.

The Kick It Up! project will train twenty girls in the South African community of Soweto and 10 girls in Los Angeles to produce video stories from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The girls will be given training in story development and composition as well as video editing, production, and distribution. Their reports will be shown in a wide variety of media, including ESPN, BBC, Univision, KPFK, Al Jazeera, GritTV, Soweto TV,,, and

The goals of the project are multi-layered: first, to offer girls who have grown up in under-served communities the opportunity to make their voices heard in the male-dominated domains of media and sports; second, to give them practical training and equipment to kick off journalistic careers; and third, to challenge the dumbed-down stereotypes of the mass media, which insists that young girls care only about boys and mascara and are unaffected by and uninterested in issues of race, class, politics, and injustice.”

GlobalGirl Media – South Africa, Julie Foudy, Los Angeles from GlobalGirl Media on Vimeo.

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