The head of Japan’s professional women’s soccer league says Japanese soccer players are often perceived as “cute” rather than elite athletes in the country.
Media’s focus on looks: Haruna Takata, who also serves as the vice president of the Japan Football Association, expressed her concerns about the media’s portrayal of female athletes in Japan during a press conference on July 13.
“In Japan, the tendency is particularly strong to focus on the visual appeal and cuteness of female sports players,” said Takata. “No matter how much soccer’s competitiveness improves, it’s hard to get people to feel interested in that aspect of it.”
Takata noted that despite Japan’s victory against the United States in the 2011 Women’s World Cup, support for women’s sports in the country still lags behind other nations.
Japan’s gender gap: Takata also attributed the challenges faced by women’s soccer players to the gender gap in Japan, noting that the sport would be more accessible to the public if Japanese society was more enlightened about women.
“I think that people around the world are not really aware of the extent to which the gender gap index in Japan is reflected in the current issues surrounding women’s sports in Japan,” she was quoted saying. “I think it is amazing that every country is so far ahead of the times in terms of the gender gap.”
Japan ranks 116th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, the lowest among Group of Seven countries.
Missed opportunity: Takata regrets not capitalizing on the opportunity presented by the 2011 World Cup victory as women’s soccer has stalled in Japan in recent years despite a rise in global interest in women’s sports.
Acknowledging that inequities in salaries are primarily due to the sport’s ability to generate TV revenue, Takata wished there were more investments made in the business side of the sport immediately after the victory.
Such woes continued for the upcoming Women’s World Cup, as Japanese broadcasters sold the rights independently for the first time, separate from the men’s event. European broadcasters initially showed reluctance to pay for TV rights, leading to significantly low bids. A broadcast deal was eventually reached last month.
The tournament is set to commence in Australia and New Zealand this week, with Nadeshiko Japan, the national team, playing its first match against Zambia on Saturday.