Women’s World Cup: Three events that show the gap between men and women’s football

Mary Earps during the World Cup final

The Women’s World Cup was one of record attendances, huge global audiences and teams breaking new ground. But it was also one marred by incidents which distracted from momentous achievements on the pitch.

When Spain’s football team stepped on to the podium on Sunday to collect their trophy after winning the Women’s World Cup, adoring crowds cheered their skills, resilience and historic achievement. Hours later, a viral video clip of Luis Rubiales kissing Jenni Hermoso on the lips became a global talking point – sparking anger from pundits and players alike.

The incident was not lost on one of the sport’s most high profile activists on equality, the US player Megan Rapinoe , who observed that women footballers are “playing two games at the same time”.

“One, we’re playing all against each other. And then the other one, we’re all playing together to win equality and progress and what we deserve,” she added.

The tournament had already started against a backdrop of discussion and disputes across nations over equal pay , bonuses and other financial support.

From Rubiales infamous kiss to Nike’s decision not to make replica goalkeeper shirts, here’s what three controversial World Cup moments show us about the issues women footballers still face.

Infantino’s speech and the battle for recognition

Infantino is no stranger to raising eyebrows. Back in November 2022, the most powerful man in world football delivered a monologue on the eve of the controversial Qatar men’s World Cup.

“Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker,” Fifa’s president said in a news conference before the men’s World Cup in Qatar, after which he was being criticised for comments “as crass as they were clumsy”.

But in another World Cup news conference just nine months later and addressing “all the women”, he told them they “have the power to change”.

“Pick the right battles. Pick the right fights. You have the power to change. You have the power to convince us men what we have to do and what we don’t have to do. You do it. Just do it. With men, with Fifa, you will find open doors. Just push the doors,” he said.

It was another speech for which Infantino was criticised, with The Guardian columnist Marina Hyde calling his words “patronising women beyond belief”, BBC presenter Gabby Logan said the comments were “ridiculous and reductive”, while commentator Jacqui Oatley called it “nonsense”.

Players didn’t like it either. Norway forward Ada Hegerberg said in a sarcastic post on social media that she was “working on a little presentation to convince men”.

By this point, Infantino had already drawn attention to the fact that he has four daughters. In videos of support to the Lionesses posted on social media, it was noted that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, David Beckham, even the Prince of Wales, all highlighted their daughters – but not their sons, in the case of the latter two.

Sunak and Prince William’s absences from Sunday’s final were also notable. Climate impact explanations were raised, but many questioned if the British Prime Minister and president of the Football Association would have missed a World Cup final if it had featured Gareth Southgate’s men?

Spain’s kiss-gate and unwanted attention

Spain’s tournament build-up was marked by unrest in the camp and player revolts but, despite a deserved maiden World Cup win, further negative attention came the nation’s way because of the actions of the man at the top of their federation.

Having earlier grabbed his crotch in celebration while standing near Spain’s Queen Letizia and her 16-year-old daughter, Rubiales would once again display “unacceptable” behaviour as he took his place on the podium.

Greeting Spain’s players as they received their World Cup winners’ medals, he grabbed Jenni Hermoso by the head before forcibly planting a kiss on her lips, surrounded by cameras, the eyes of millions watching on.

As Hermoso moved away, he continued to kiss her team-mates on the cheek and neck as he embraced each and every one of them. Later in the dressing room, he told them they must visit Ibiza, as that would be where he would marry Hermoso.

“I did not enjoy that”, the Spanish forward told the press, though later defended Rubiales albeit through quotes released by the Spanish FA itself – while the country’s politicians said it was a “form of sexual violence” that cannot be “normalised”. On Tuesday, Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called it an “unacceptable gesture”, while another politician called on him to resign.

Rubiales later admitted he was “completely wrong”, after the global backlash, but an emergency Spanish FA meeting on Friday may result in further action.

Rapinoe, speaking to American magazine The Atlantic, said Rubiales’ actions “signals such a deep level of misogyny and sexism in that federation”, adding: “It made me think about how much we are required to endure.

“What kind of upside-down world are we in? On the biggest stage, where you should be celebrating, Jenni [Hermoso] has to be physically assaulted by this guy.”

The shirt saga and support for players

A fan holds up a cardboard cut out of a Mary Earps goalkeeper shirt with a sign calling on Nike to 'Just Do It'.

And then you have the story that has run and run with no sign of a solution any time soon.

Football fans, particularly those young, impressionable supporters, have worn the names of their heroes on their backs for years. But if your hero is Mary Earps, bad luck.

The England goalkeeper may be fast becoming a household name with individual awards – the world’s top goalkeeper at the Fifa Best awards, the Golden Glove winner in Australia and New Zealand – racking up, but her match shirt is nowhere to be seen.

In July, Earps said she was “hurt” that fans could not buy a replica of her goalkeeper jersey, manufacturers Nike reportedly not having women’s goalkeeper kits on public sale as part of their commercial strategy. A quick online search finds an England men’s goalkeeper shirt readily available to buy.

It could be seen as a missed commercial opportunity for the brand, given replicas of Earps’ Manchester United kit, produced by Adidas, sold out last season.

On Sunday, Nike said they were “working towards solutions for future tournaments”. At the time of writing, a petition calling on Nike to re-think their decision has amassed more than 130,000 signatures.

In the end, fans took matters in to their own hands, getting the fabric pens out and fashioning their own versions.

Indeed, the only two people who managed to get hold of Earps goalkeeper jerseys were her own parents – proudly wearing the old match shirts in loyal support.

As Dr Ali Bowes – a lecturer in the sociology of women’s sport at Nottingham Trent University – recently told BBC News , “sport is a microcosm of society”.

“If you can tackle gender inequality in sport, you’re going to go some way to tackling gender inequality problems in the wider world.”

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