Wikipedia hates women’s football

Ok, so maybe that isn’t entirely fair. There is a small but hardy band of editors on Wikipedia who work tirelessly on improving the user-edited encyclopedia’s sometimes good, but often poor coverage of women’s football. But there is no doubt that the way football articles are dealt with there has led to a huge gender bias.

For some time there has been something of a civil war going on in WikiProject Football (an organisation within Wikipedia made up of editors who work on football-related articles), centred mainly around a set of guidelines known as WP:NFOOTY. These are the rules that decide which players are worthy of having their own article on Wikipedia and which ones aren’t.

It may sound harsh to arbitrarily declare someone unworthy of being featured on the wiki, but without it the whole of Wikipedia would become filled up with every fat-bellied, pub team hoofballer adding pages about themselves (not that there’s anything wrong with being a fat-bellied, pub team hoofballer), which in turn makes it much more difficult for readers to find information that might actually be interesting or relevant. These are important rules then, and it’s important to find the right balance of who should be included and who shouldn’t.

And this is where the problem begins.

As a footballer, to be included on Wikipedia you have to meet at least one of the following two conditions:

  1. You must have been capped at full international level.
  2. You must have played in a first-team match between two clubs who both play in a fully-professional league.

The first condition isn’t a problem, it ensures that anyone who has played internationally, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, can be included. The nub of the problem lies with point 2. This is a huge bone of contention for women’s football editors because of the huge disparity in the number of professional male leagues around the world and the number of professional female leagues. There is even a handy page that lists them all for you.

This page lists 143 men’s leagues around the world that are considered to be fully professional, so any player who has played even a single minute in any of these leagues is deemed “notable” and is worthy of an article.

The women’s leagues listed are limited to Sweden’s Damallsvenskan (comprised of 12 teams) and the 10-team National Women’s Soccer League, based in the USA, along with the now-defunct American leagues Women’s United Soccer League and Women’s Professional Soccer.

Those 143 men’s league give a pool of thousands of teams that a male player can play for to achieve notablility, but a female would have to play for one of just 22 teams in the whole world to win the same status.

It’s not just the coverage of women’s football that is harmed by this rule either – men’s league football in Africa is almost entirely excluded from Wikipedia by this rule too, with just 7 nations in that continent boasting professional leagues.

This is a matter that is raised from time to time on the WikiProject Football talk page, but the response is always the same: it would be unfair to have one rule for one group and a different rule for another, so we’re going to keep the rules as they are.

Editors who work on women’s football, left feeling unsupported and unvalued, have even suggested breaking away from WikiProject Football altogether, and forming their own WikiProject. WikiProject Football’s reaction to this has been predictably negative, accompanied by repeating yet again that to change the inclusion criteria for one group would be unfair to the others.

So for now we live in a world where Michael Boateng‘s 14 minutes played in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy is enough to deem him notable, but many female players who have racked up hundreds of top-level league appearances around the world are not.

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