During the Women’s World Cup FIFA 2023the telecommunications company Orange published a powerful television advertisement in which the elegant agility and spectacular goal kicks of French national team players such as Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Olivier Giroud.
Then came the trap, because after a minute the viewer realized that the highlights had been artificially modified and that In fact, all the players were from the French women’s team.
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The ad sought to counter a common criticism of women’s sports: that women players are not as entertaining as their male counterparts and the action is less exciting than in the men’s sports.
In our recently published study, we decided to put this notion to the test. We hide the gender of football players and we asked participants to rate the performance of the athletes they saw.
A wage and coverage gap
Sports are one of the largest markets in the world: it is estimated to be around 83 billion dollars only in the United States. But any fan, casual or serious, can easily observe striking gender differences in media coverage and player salaries.
Out of the Games Olympiconly about 4 percent of all sports media coverage worldwide is dedicated to the women’s sports. Live events are much less likely to be broadcast, and only one woman, retired tennis star Serena Williams, is among the world’s 50 highest-paid athletes according to Forbes.
In 2019, the United States women’s national soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer. Although the team had won the last two World Cups feminine (and the men’s team had not reached a semi-final since 1930), the women were not paid as much as their male counterparts. In 2022, the two parties reached an agreement that guaranteed the equal pay. But the dispute offered a window into the thinking of many sports executives and fans.
The legal advisor of US Soccer stated that the women’s team plays “a different game” to the masculine “in the sense that men are bigger, stronger and faster.”
Research has shown that women’s and men’s soccer differ in several physical aspects; For example, men’s soccer players cover more ground and run faster during the games.
But the question is whether women’s physical differences necessarily make games less entertaining. The existence of stereotypes points to an alternative possibility: gender biases could influence perceptions about the quality of games.
Physical differences are often used to support sexist claims that most women’s sports are boring and slow. This narrative probably influences dominant attitudes towards sports such as basketball and the soccer feminine.
When gender is obscured, differences disappear
Previous research shows that biases likely influence when people evaluate the performance of companies. women in the field and in the workplace.
Includes the work of Claudia Goldinwho recently received the Nobel Prize in Economics. Her fascinating 2000 study with the economist Cecilia Rouse showed how blind auditions for symphony orchestras resulted in more women being hired.
The work of Goldin inspired our study. What if we could prevent football fans from identifying the players and test whether gender bias influenced evaluations of the athletic performance of the players?
We organize an experiment and we showed more than 600 participants Highlights of men’s and women’s professional soccer videos. We asked the group, made up of 55 percent men and one 45 percent womenlet them look 10 videos and then they will rate the players’ performance during scoring plays on a scale of 1 to 5.
In the control group, participants watched and evaluated regular videos. For the experimental group, we blur the gender of the playersmaking it impossible for participants distinguish men from women. To do this, we carefully review each frame of each video and use a program to blur the bodies.
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Participants who regularly viewed highlights They evaluated the goals scored by men significantly better. However, The difference evaporated in the experimental condition, where participants did not know whether they were watching men or women play.. The results held even after controlling for demographics, whether they preferred men’s or women’s soccer, and how often they watched soccer.
The findings reveal that Gender biases influence fans’ perceptions of women’s football and possibly about other women’s sports.
* Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich and Professor of Economics at the University of Stavanger.