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The Ugly Reality For Female Athletes

Female athletes — extremely talented, but for some reason, underrated.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve participated in all kinds of sports, in schools and clubs, competitively and just for fun. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve watched male athletes being respected and praised for their strength and skill.

The men in my life have had great influence on me, including when it comes to my love of sports, and for a long time, I didn’t see the lack of acknowledgement that female athletes received, because I would get so caught up in what the men were doing. I never saw them as less deserving, and I never thought it was unfair, because I didn’t look at them any differently. I just took for granted that all women were treated the same.

Even though, I don’t aspire to compete professionally in any of the sports that I enjoy partaking in, I admire the skills of all athletes, no matter the gender. But I’ve noticed that not everybody does. Not everybody is as blown away by a goal made by a female footballer, or by a race won by a female runner, as they would be if it was Ronaldo or Bolt. I will never understand why some seem to lose that admiration, or feel that a match or game is less important due to the change in gender.

This topic felt appropriate to address especially now, when I’ve been spending a lot of my time watching the Olympics, which seems to be one of the main platforms that female athletes have to showcase their sports performances to the world.

As the Swedish women’s football team walks away with a silver medal, I feel especially proud, being both Swedish and a young woman. I’ve followed my country’s progress, we’re a fairly small country in terms of the number of athletes, and I’ve been impressed by many of our strong competitors — but our women’s football team, has especially inspired me with their journey this year.

They were knocked down and managed to come back stronger. Having lost to Brazil 5-1 in the group stages, they analysed Brazil’s play and improved their defence in such a way that they won the quarter-final match. In the game against USA they, again, kept their defences high and fought their way into the final.

When playing both Brazil and USA, the twitter trends flooded with hopefuls cheering for what they thought were the “stronger” teams. Both Brazil and USA were upset with losing out and being unable to play for gold, which I understood, but what I didn’t understand, was the great amount of judgement and hatred that was projected onto the Swedish team — a team that’d done nothing but work extremely hard to get as far as they did. This was also followed by Hope Solo’s (USA’s goalkeeper) nasty comment, calling the Swedish team, “cowards and undeserving.” It felt so disappointing to see other players disregarding another team’s fight for success.

Having watched many football games, it dawned on me that although the men’s football teams equally hate losing, they rarely take out their anger on other players, and I have a strong feeling that if Zlatan Ibrahimovic had played for the Swedish men’s football team and gotten to the Olympic final, nobody would have called them undeserving.

So why is it more acceptable to bully, in this case, female athletes? And how sad it is to be reminded that there are a lot of women who would rather see other women fail, than to stand beside them proudly.

Women, in many careers, suffer from being underestimated, underpaid and under-acknowledged, by their fellow male co-workers, and in my opinion, the very last thing we need, in any industry, are women who join them or converse in discussions that make them feel that disrespecting or disregarding a woman’s skill and dedication is okay.

I am so inspired by the Swedish women’s football team for winning that silver medal, whilst still showing kindness to the rival teams that they played against. Even after the comments that were made, I am so glad that they stood extra tall, knowing that they made it into the final because they worked for it, and that other people’s bitterness after losing can’t take that away from them.

I hope for a future where we continue to blur the lines between gender and/or nationality and instead direct our focus to the passion behind the sports that we watch and the recognition that the athletes are entitled to.

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