The camera pans on the crowd of football fans but lo and behold if it is a woman it picks out, then it is only one type it finds. Yes, the beautifully made up, scantily-clad one. Twenty-seven-year-old Thomas Mandl, a German photographer, and activist is trying to change that image. For the 2018 FIFA World Cup, he started a project titled “World Cup Girls”. He wanted to create a new perception around the female football fan and sexism in the game. The Daily Vox team spoke to Mandl about his work.
— COPA90 (@COPA90) July 5, 2018
“It’s really crazy that in our time that sexism is still a big thing in football. And FIFA is tackling a lot like racism but they don’t do enough to tackle sexism which is very bad,” starts Mandl.
Mandl is a freelance photographer based in Munich. He studied politics and that’s the reason why he combines a lot of his creative work with the political issues. He does a lot of reportage photography which is about using photography to show issues that exist.
Catalina (32) is from Medellin in Colombia and a supporter of Independiente Medellín. She loves football and has traveled to Russia to support her time like many other Colombians. Back in Colombia about 40% of the supporters in the stadium are women and even if this percentage is lower for the female representative in Russia there is a huge number of female supporters from her country in Russia. #worldcupgirls 🇨🇴 this Reportage serves to de-sexualize the image of female fans during the World Cup and to embrace female fan culture.
Previous projects of Mandl includes the Grenfell Towers Tragedy and how the community changed afterwards, the wildfires in Portugal with the firefighters and the farmers and a national park in Africa where all the elephants were killed and there are no visitors because Boko Haram is the area.
He says he is interested in issues that are socially and politically important and found a medium with photography.
As for where he got his idea for the project, it was Arsenal-inspired.
“Last year in August, I had the idea for the first time while in London. I saw four girls a mother with her three daughters and they were all dressed in Arsenal jerseys and they were not stereotypical fans images. It wasn’t even match day and they were wearing the kits so I was like it’s really sad that you will never see those fans even if Arsenal means the world to them. I had the idea in mind that next year is the World Cup and I would really like to do something about female fans during the World Cup. Then it started for the first time that I started googling World Cup girls because I wanted to find proof that this issue is still existing. I found the main problem is the sexualised topic of female fans. The hashtag is really big and it’s mainly sexualised images so this was kind of the trigger for the whole thing,” he says.
Mandl says he did not received much interest from media about the project before going but left for Russia at the last minute.
“The first days I kind of had to find out what kind of style and images I wanted to take. I approached a lot of women and most of them were really thankful for the project. Most of them it was easy to take their pictures and get insight into their role as a fan and who they support back home. I found this nice spot in the city where there were no distractions like background so I tried to get more and more female fans to stand there. I managed to get a lot of beautiful portraits and I finished last week Wednesday,” he says.
Mandl went to two games which were interesting for his reportage: the Iran versus Portugal and Japan versus Croatia games.
“The Iran game was really interesting because I knew about the issue of Iranian women not being allowed to go to the stadium back in Iran,” Mandl met two Iranian women at the bus station travelling to the game. He spoke to them but they didn’t want their faces to be photographed because they worked for the government.
Mandl remarked that it was so cool that there were so many female fans were in the stadium and that Iran and Japan had probably 30% of the women in the stadium.
A phenomenon in football is the camera during football matches always picking out a certain beauty standard. Mandl wants to combat that with his project.
“Sexism is something that is a male problem and it is a problem that is caused by men objectifying women. It is probably a guy zooming in on the female fans with the pervert cam. It is important that it is not only women that stop this objectifying and sexualising of females in general. It’s important that they can dress how they want in the stadium but the problem is if only those sexy girls are shown by the pervert cam. It is very powerful for me as a man to do the opposite and not to show the sexy images but to show normal female fans. We as man have to change this topic. That’s very important,”
His project has become quite successful. It was shown through a Snapchat story on the Copa90 account.
Adejoke (25) is from Lagos in Nigeria. She started to watch football with her dad when she was young and fell in love with the game. It’s her first time in Russia that she is supporting her country’s team during a World Cup and she is very happy that there is a huge number of female Nigerian fans both back home and in Russia. #worldcupgirls
“A few million people has seen the project. For example the Snapchat from Copa90 got a few million viewers all over the world and was even translated. Also viewers who stayed till the last image. This is something I could never have imagined the project would get that big. This is far more worthy because it is through social media. I am so happy because this is a topic that was so much on my heart. I know I have already changed hopefully the perceptions of a lot of people already. For me it’s important not to reach a huge amount of people but to reach someone who can take this project further,”
Megumi (34) is from Nagoya and as a regular supporter of Consadole Sappore often in the stadium. She came with her husband extra for the last group game from Japan to Russia. As she honestly didn’t expect Japan to go into the round of 16 she will already leave Russia again after only four days. Even if her team would have lost it would have been worth for her to see them play in Russia. #worldcupgirls
For the future, Mandl wants to approach his local team, FC Bayern Munich and talk with about how to collaborate with them and within the Bundesliga about how to work on this topic and embrace female fan culture. He is also thinking plans for the next year’s Women’s World Cup.
“The Women’s World Cup is coming up next year and I really need to think about we can we can change male fan culture towards women’s football. Because it is perceived in a very bad way,” he says.
Check out more of Mandl’s work on Instagram.