PtG Article 19.03.2024

Women's football teams should not play in white shorts if they want to win

New research shows that the performance of women's football teams go down if they play in white shorts because the players are worried about leakage during the time of their period.

In football, a number of women's teams have stopped playing in white shorts because the players are worried about leakage during the time of their period. And they are right do so, says a Norwegian professor of economics whose research shows that teams playing in white shorts receive fewer points than opponents playing in non-white shorts.

The professor is Alex Krumer from Molde University College in Norway. During a session at Play the Game 2024, he spoke about his decision to address the issue of period anxiety and what it means for female football players who are forced to play in white shorts.

"There is lack of understanding associated with the issue of menstruation. One of these issues is leakage which causes lack of confidence among women. There have been studies about it where women explicitly say that white shorts make them anxious and they do not want to play in them," Krumer said.

White shorts affect the performance of women's teams

Krumer is interested in whether women's anxieties about leakage also means something for their performance on the field. So he investigated the outcome of all the games from football World Cups and European Championships between 2002 and 2023 for both women and men.

When he divided the teams into two groups - those playing in white shorts, and those playing in non-white shorts - he saw that teams with white shorts achieved 1.27 points per game on average whereas teams playing in non-white shorts achieved 1.57 points on average.

"The difference is significant and cannot be explained by differences in ranking. Teams in white shorts have an average FIFA ranking of 13.6 in my data, teams in non-white shorts 13.7," Krumer said.

Krumer also looked at whether playing in white shorts had an effect on the performance of men's teams. 

"For men, we found zero effect. There is no difference for games played in white or non-white shorts," he said.

Put simply, Krumer argued, the best advice for women's teams is to not play in white shorts:

"One: Women will be much more comfortable. Two: You will not lose more often."

Not understanding women's needs can be costly for society

Even though period anxiety is widely acknowledged by women in sport, 19 out of 32 teams participating the women's football World Cup in 2023 still played at least one of their matches in white shorts.

Krumer speculated that the reason for this state of affairs could be that most of the decision-makers in football are men who do not think about the impact that women's periods can have on their performance.

However, not understanding the needs of women can be costly not only in football but also for society as a whole, as research shows that sports uniforms play a significant role in the high drop-out rates of teenage girls in school sports.

"It can mean that women participate less in sports. But sports should be a vehicle for gender empowerment for instance through social networks. If women do less sports, they have fewer networks and lower possibilities of being hired for good jobs and earn big money," Krumer argued.

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