Sport as Economic Opportunity

By Payal Dalal, Group Sustainability, Standard Chartered Bank

Sport as Economic Opportunity

New campaign aims to change stereotypes, shatter barriers and encourage more girls to play sports

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup lived up to the high expectations. We witnessed nail biting penalty shootouts, new entrants such as Cameroon reaching the quarter finals, and impressive physical feats by female athletes. We also saw something a little more subtle but no less powerful: the world got behind a women’s sporting event.

According to FIFA, the women’s World Cup attracted a record number of viewers. In France, the number of viewers set a new digital TV record. This is good news for the sporting industry and sponsors alike, but it’s even greater news for millions of girls and women around the world.

No longer the poor cousin

Women’s football has always been the poor cousin of the men’s game. The average salary of a player in the Football Association’s Women’s Super League is around £21,000 a yea…. In fact, it was only recently that women footballers had the opportunity to become professional. Until 2013, they had to juggle a day job with the rigors of training, and many lower league players still do.

Football sponsors and economists will tell you the differential is down to demand. Salaries reflect the sport’s popularity – if audiences aren’t interested in women’s football, players can’t claim a big pay check. However, the 2015 Women’s World Cup shattered this argument in a significant way.

Global viewing figures show that, in certain countries, women’s football can now attract just as big a TV audience as the men’s game. In fact, the Women’s World Cup final became the most-watched football game ever in the US. The acknowledgement and popularity of women’s football is good for girls globally: playing a sport and being strong is now more culturally acceptable and that will give more girls the opportunity to compete.

Sport as economic opportunity

As women’s football becomes increasingly commercial, more girls and women have the opportunity and incentive to pursue sport as a career, opening a new economic pathway for them.

Consider the story of Asisat Oshoala, forward for the Liverpool Ladies FC and member of the national Nigeria Squad. Growing up in Lagos, she had to fight for the right to play football and often had to play with boys, because there were no girls’ teams to join. She courageously defied her family who expected her to pursue a career in gold or fashion – the industries in which her parents work – to chase her dreams of becoming a professional footballer.

Despite the barriers, Asisat became the first African player in the women’s super league, and recently became BBC’s women’s footballer of the year. Her determination and tenacity proves that girls and women can have a career playing sports, and has paved the way for younger girls across the world to follow their sporting dreams.

Shattering the stereotypes

More girls playing sports is critical, not because it challenges socio-cultural norms, but because sport teaches many life skills, such as communication, anticipation, confidence and leadership. It also allows girls to be more physically active; in a world where obesity and diabetes is affecting more children than ever before, this is significant.

Sport allows girls to have fun in a safe, protected space. This may seem minor, but more than half of adolescent girls globally are living in poverty and vulnerable circumstances. Spending an hour playing and laughing in unguarded bliss is something every girl deserves, but, sadly, an opportunity not every girl gets. That’s why the more girls who play sport – from developing and developed countries – the better.

To promote the power of sport, Standard Chartered in partnership with Liverpool Ladies Football Club are introducing the #ThisGirlsGoal campaign, an exciting advocacy campaign designed to create and facilitate a conversation about the challenges adolescent girls face around the world. Through dialogue, we hope to shatter stereotypes and norms that prevent girls from fulfilling their potential.

Players from Liverpool Ladies Football Club including World Cup players Fara Williams (England), Asisat Oshaola (Nigeria), team captain Gemma Bonner, and striker Natasha Dowie have created videos and photographs that capture them demolishing societal perceptions and norms with a football. Through the campaign and by using social media, we hope to inspire others to recreate and shatter the oppressive statements and ideas about girls. It’s through this type of dialogue that we hope to shift notions about what girls are and are not.

The Women’s World Cup may be over, but we can still challenge global stereotypes and introduce a new conventional wisdom about the power and potential of adolescent girls globally. That’s this girl’s goal.

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