Amid these sexism-riddled Rio Olympics, one sport that’s managed to go fairly unnoticed is the always-exciting women’s soccer.
The biggest news of the competition, for many, was Hope Solo’s bitter outburst which she called the Swedish national team “cowards” after the U.S.’ elimination at the quarterfinals.
Perhaps the lack of interest is due to the excitement generated by more traditional Olympics sports, but given the growing profile of women’s soccer over the past decade (not to mention the U.S. women’s electric World Cup win last summer), it’s somewhat disappointing to see the Beautiful Game left out of memorable viral moments throughout the Rio Olympics.
Daniel Durbin — Director of the Institute of Sports, Media and Society at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism — places the blame for the lack of coverage squarely at the feet of the broadcast networks, who tend to skew their coverage in favor of men’s sports over women’s.
“The core issue always has been the coverage of the media,” Durbin, an Olympic scholar, told us. “When media is focused almost solely, in terms of coverage, on the men’s side, it’s hard to find room for the women’s achievements in the overall narrative.”
But despite the press and in turn most international fans’ lack of attention, the women’s soccer squads have managed to rule Rio 2016’s soccer scene, and have arguably overshadowed the men’s game during these Games — despite the lack of prominent coverage.
A perfect example is the Brazilian women’s soccer team, which has been able to rally an infamously macho culture behind it — until its elimination in penalties at the hands of Sweden in the semifinals.
As The New York Times wrote during the Brazilian women’s team run, “The women’s game — the Brazilian women in particular, but with applause left over for foreign teams as well — has captured the collective imagination here.”
The proof is in the fact that Marta — Brazil’s most prominent female soccer player — is on the verge of eclipsing her male counterpart, Neymar.
As for the growth of the women’s game’s following, the Times> quoted South African defender Janine van Wyk — as she reflected on the Amazônia Arena’s 43,000 excited fans — on just how far women have come in this male-dominated sport.
“This is amazing, to realize that all these people are supporting the women’s game,” she said. “This lets younger girls everywhere know our sport is growing.”
This summer, the Brazilian women have been able to grab the world’s attention from the struggling men’s side, and prove that female soccer fandom isn’t at issue for low ratings and attention. The problem at heart is the bureaucratic machinations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) media presence and current U.S. rights-holding broadcaster NBC.
“Those two factors tend to keep women’s counterpart sports marginalized,” said Durbin. “When you construct your sport that way, you’ve already set a standard that favors the men’s as the more important event.”
“Fox Sports promoted the Women’s World Cup moderately well and treated it as they do other sports, and so the competition buried the World Series — the national pastime — in ratings,” he added. “So the issue isn’t audiences.”
Equal support for women’s sports is still a work in progress, but even with the slightest rise of support on the corporate levels, the soccer world’s women have time and again proven they’re ready to show their game is just as exciting as any highly covered men’s match.
“Once the narrative is out there, people will gravitate to the dramatic,” Durbin explained. “Sports are all about drama and winning and losing.” Women’s soccer has got plenty of that and more to offer—so be sure to find a way to watch the medal matches today.