The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicked off on June 7th in France, the tournament the most coveted in women’s football is contested by 24 national women’s teams from across the globe including the tournament favourites America, and dominant teams from Europe including Germany France and England – Asia is represented by 2011 tournament winners Japan, China, South Korea and Thailand.
The sold-out opening ceremony and packed stadiums are testament to the extraordinary growth of women’s football with more girls and women playing, sponsors investing more money and more audience following the game at the stadium or through a screen its been an amazing journey for those supporters who were their from the very beginning.
When the U.S. played Norway in the semifinals of the second Women’s World Cup in 1995, less than 3,000 people showed up at a minor league soccer stadium in Sweden to watch. And that was one of the bigger crowds of the tournament. Today it is easily 20,000 – 30,000 attendees per game, despite the unquestionable growth and success of the women’s game – many teams and players at the tournament face issues such as, sexism, equal pay and sexual harassment.
The former head of FIFA Sepp Blatter once declared "Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?"
Those comments were not surprising. As women players are routinely pressured to prove their femininity and market themselves as sexual objects. Rather for their skill, grit a love for the beautiful game.
Team’s like the US national team, are also pushing their national federation for equal pay and have sued, fighting for not just better salaries but also better training facilities and resources.
Women’s professional soccer players in Brazil still don’t earn a living wage. Top players for the men’s league can make upwards of $125,000 per month, while women have yet to surpass $500.
Despite the challenges to be taken seriously, in what is historically a male dominated sport women’s football continues to go from strength to strength and it is at the grassroots level that you see the huge potential of the women’s game. In China where traditional views on male, female roles in society is strong the acceptance and promotion of parents for girls to play football is evident with the growing numbers of girls participating in football increasing year on year.
One mother, describes the determination of her daughter to play football despite the obstacles
“My daughter (aged 7) loves playing football, but the only team she can join is for boys – she is smaller and younger than them. She is not very good but she enjoys chasing after the football. My husband is not happy that she is playing. He says she will get too brown and her muscles will get too big and wants her to stop – but my daughter refuses not to play!”
In Japan the national women’s team transformed the women's game when they won the World Cup in 2011 and in Singapore although not able to qualify for this FIFA World Cup and far from having a competitive national team the push by parents to enrol their daughters in summer football boot camps is a sign of the long-term transformation taking place.
Finally, whether your a fan of the 'beautiful game' the strength and resolve of generations of female footballers in continuing to play in the face of opposition, sexism and ridicule should inspire us all and has inspired a new generation of girls to fall in love with the ‘beautiful game’, let them be known for being brave, determined battlers, rather than fragile mountain blooms that will fuel the continued rise of the sport.