This now-viral soccer ad makes a powerful statement about gender equality in sport

Thanks in part to good old-fashioned misogyny, female athletes are often undervalued and underpaid in sports. So when I saw a now-viral soccer ad that ended in a surprising way that challenged those deep-seated misconceptions, I was all for it.

The two-minute ad, created by the French division of telecommunications company Orange and marketing agency Marcel, was released ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup and uses the power of video editing to challenge those thoughts. It begins with a highlight video of what appears to be the French men’s soccer team pulling off truly impressive feats: dazzling displays of footwork, amazing aerial spikes, and lightning-quick sprints down the pitch. Dramatic music plays in the background, commentators enthusiastically narrate the scenes, and a crowd of fans erupts in cheers. About halfway through, the screen cuts to black and the text appears: “Only Les Bleus (the French men’s team) can give us these emotions.”

Then the plot twist. On-screen text reveals players. they were not the men’s team – the video is rewound to show that all the footage was actually from women’s games. Using advanced editing techniques, the women’s faces and names on their T-shirts were changed to those of the men; side-by-side comparisons show the authentic images versus the fake clips. All those amazing plays you just saw? They were performed by female athletes.

The ad concludes with the text: “At Orange, we support Les Bleus”. Then an editing tool comes into the frame to make a small but important change: it adds an “e” to the last word to spell “Bleu”.mys”—to signify the French women’s national team. (You can see an English version of the video on YouTube here.)

On social media, viewers expressed their amazement at the announcement. “They did an amazing job revealing the biases that exist around male and female athletes,” Twitter user glasses works wrote. “My eyes got a little cloudy looking at that,” said Reddit user koreawut.

By highlighting the fact that women’s soccer can be just as exciting as men’s, and that female athletes are just as talented, athletic, and capable of eliciting an emotional reaction from fans, the ad undermines the notion that women’s sports are not as entertaining or fun to watch, which is commonly used as a justification for why female athletes are often not paid as much as their male counterparts.

However, lately there has been progress in the right direction, especially in professional football. After a six-year battle, the US Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) has won a $24 million settlement in 2022 from the US Soccer Federation, plus a promise that the organization will pay the men’s and women’s national teams equally in competitions. Also encouraging: more people than ever are showing an interest in women’s sports. The 2019 Women’s World Cup, for example, drew a record 1.12 billion viewers, according to FIFA. And the upcoming 2023 Women’s World Cup is on track to be the most attended independent women’s sporting event in history, with more than a million tickets sold as of last month, according to FIFA.

Still, more work remains to be done to dismantle gender bias in sports. Researchers of a recent study published in Sports Management Review found that people rated videos of elite male soccer players higher than those of women, as Time informed. However, when the genders of the players were hidden, they rated the two groups similarly.

“Whether you look at revenue, investment or coverage, men’s sports perform better than women’s. Many assume that absolute differences in the quality of athletic performance are the driving force,” the authors wrote in the study. “However, the existence of stereotypes should alert us to another possibility: gender information could influence perceived quality.”

The launch of the announcement couldn’t have come at a better time: with the Women’s World Cup kicking off this week in Australia and New Zealand, there will be plenty of opportunities to see just how wrong these gender biases are and how truly exciting women’s sports can be.


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