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The beautiful game is so-called because of its inclusivity. People from different races or creeds can participate in a global phenomenon. Both men and women are capable of playing the sport at the highest possible levels, but are there any key differences between men’s and women’s soccer? Let’s find out
The main differences between men’s and women’s soccer include financial, training, general play, and officials. Competitiveness is also a significant difference at this point. Most of the differences hinge on the physiological differences between men and women. Financial differences are based on marketability and revenues.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the differences in the men’s and women’s games. We’ll touch on some on and off-field aspects of comparison so we can get a clearer picture.
1. Money matters
This is probably the BIGGEST difference between men’s and women’s games. Needless to say, the men’s game is several times more lucrative and, despite the rapid growth of ladies’ soccer, that gap is still widening.
The English Premier League, by itself, generates greater revenues than all women’s club and international competitions…combined. The men’s World Cup and UEFA Champions League are bigger cash cows than the Superbowl or the NBA Finals. The money rolls freely in the upper echelons of the men’s game, and the players are handsomely rewarded as well. The biggest clubs can have salary budgets of up to US$400 million for a 25-man first-team squad, all the while supporting various youth level teams with facilities, coaching, and allowances.
In terms of the respective games’ highest earners, men’s football also wins. According to Insider.com, Barcelona and Argentina icon Lionel Messi earned US$141 million in salary and endorsement deals in 2019. On the ladies’ side, US Women’s National Team hero Carli Lloyd earned just over half a million dollars in the same amount. In raw numbers, this means the highest-paid male player earns 272 times as much as the highest-paid female star.
These financial differences mean that the stars in top men’s leagues can build great wealth to support themselves during and after their careers. Women soccer players usually have a greater need to find additional income streams or obtain second and third jobs because, for most, playing earnings are hardly enough to cover monthly living expenses or loans.
The differences in the team and personal earnings come down to one simple thing…revenue. Men’s teams and male players tend to attract more fans to stadiums, and more eyeballs to TV screens than their female counterparts. Players like Messi, Cristiano, and Neymar sell jerseys like hotcakes every single day, generating millions for their sponsors, clubs, and national associations. Most big clubs and countries have their own stars who rake in big bucks via tickets and merchandise.
Competition prize monies have been a bone of considerable contention in the last few years. In 2018, FIFA Men’s World Cup champions France pocketed a cool 38 million out of a total prize pool of US$400 million distributed among 32 teams. Compare that to 2019’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, where there was a total prize pool of US$24 million to be shared among 24 teams. Winners United States were awarded $4 million from that pool.
Revenue is the name of the game for these tournaments as well. FIFA’s main argument for the vast pay gaps is that men’s tournaments make much more money than women’s soccer. Due to ticket sales, merchandise, and stadium hospitality, not to mention broadcasting rights and corporate sponsorships, the men’s 2018 World Cup in Russia generated over US$6 billion for FIFA alone. Never mind what the influx of fans did for Russia’s local tourism. The female counterpart made US$131 million in France the following year, which is respectable but hardly a dent in the men’s figure.
In recent times, the issue of equal pay has garnered momentum in the sport, with the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) at the forefront of the disputes. US Soccer, much like FIFA, argue that pay is a reflection of marketability and revenue, arenas in which the men’s game dominates. Even in recent times, while the US Men’s National Team has floundered, the ladies’ side has shone but still gets lower allowances than the men.
The USWNT successfully defended its World Cup crown in 2019 and spearheaded several social justice and equality movements along the way. In contrast, the men even managed to fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, losing to a measly Trinidad & Tobago in a decisive qualifying match.
The ladies’ efforts have at least opened up commercial opportunities for stars like Megan Rapinoe, as well as a rise in interest in girls’ and women’s soccer at all levels in the U.S. Europe still has to play a little catch-up, but the growth has spiked exponentially thanks to the ever-increasing profile of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and emergent stars like Lieke Martens of FC Barcelona Femeni or Olympic Lyon Feminine superstar Ada Hegerberg. However, ticket and merchandise sales are still a far cry from their equivalents in the man’s game.
For the rest of the world, women’s football is still locked in an uphill battle to overcome unfortunate gender stereotypes and poor fan engagement. Incomes are not much to write home about, and endorsement deals are near non-existent in most third world countries.
Men and women have completely different physiologies and, as a result, both sexes have somewhat different approaches to training for competition.
Men are generally stronger than women, at least in the physical sense. Men’s football training leans towards intensity and power training much more than the female counterpart. Women’s football, though intense as well, is more focused on refining technique and communication.
The issue of ladies’ menstrual cycles cannot be ignored because they have a significant impact on a squad’s training regimens. To ensure the comfort and safety of players, a lot of women’s teams make frequent use of individual training programs for any affected players. If players are completely unable to train, they may be excused from training altogether until they are ready.
Men’s teams are not so frequently disrupted, with individual training programs mostly reserved for injured and unfit players.
In most cases though, as far as drills, equipment, and other aspects of training, men’s and women’s soccer are pretty much the same.
3. The rules and regulations
Unlike a lot of sports, soccer does not make any gender-based differences around general play. The fields, goals, and balls are the same sizes as in men’s soccer. Professional matches are 90 minutes long for both men and women, and teams within both games are restricted to three substitutes.
Although there is no difference in the rules, the people who enforce the rules tend to differ across the two games. Officials in the men’s game are usually men, although female officials are not unheard of. Officials in women’s soccer are usually women.
According to FIFA rules and regulations, there is no specified division for field size. Both men and women play on fields that are within FIFA’s regulated dimensional ranges (1110-120 yards long, 70-80 yards wide). Oftentimes male and female teams share stadiums and training facilities, with no size amendments made in between uses.
4. Goals, goals, goals
At this point, the developed training methods, player scouting, and coaching have taken the global men’s game to a high level of competition. This is perfectly proved at World Cup tournaments, were unfancied minnows increasingly shock some of the game’s biggest soccer nations. Oftentimes, it takes moments of magic from the bigger teams’ star performers to produce narrow victories against plucky underdogs with nothing to lose.
In the women’s game, the level of competitiveness is not quite as high. Don’t get me wrong, the crème de la crème teams like France, Sweden, England, and the USA produce tight titanic tussles with each other. However, when these teams come across the smaller names in the sport, goals tend to rain. In 2019, the USWNT walloped a hapless Thailand 13-0 in their opening World Cup game. Yes…THIRTEEN. Star striker Alex Morgan bagged herself five goals to launch the Americans’ run to the crown.
Although stars like Messi and Ronaldo are ruthless goal machines in men’s soccer, the sheer number and nature of goals scored in women’s soccer certainly raise eyebrows. Women are smaller than men, meaning they are less likely to defend as solidly. This affords lethal strikers frequent opportunities to break a team and personal scoring records.
5. General play
As far as the eye-test goes, men’s football is clearly faster and more intense than its female counterpart. However, the rate of improvement in fundamentals, technique, and tactical awareness among the ladies can only be described as jaw-dropping.
While the men’s game is more about speed and power, the women’s game highlights technique and finesse. Think battering ram (men’s) versus lockpick (women’s). Interestingly, it has been found that, on average, female soccer players get up 30 seconds faster than their male counterparts. Some tough gals have been known to pick themselves up from bloody tackles in an instant. Contrast that with Neymar’s 5-minute writhing routines every time he encounters a moderate breeze.