Its June and that means Summer Sports. And June 2019 means the Women’s World Cup. The 2019 Women’s World Cup is taking place in France this year and with it means stadiums and pitches (Field) that are high quality. The 2015 World Cup qualifying matches and competition matches were played on unsafe pitches that resulted in some injuries. There are a lot of differences from the 2015 to 2019 World Cups that are a great analogy for the progress of women’s rights, position, and status.
How we can track the changes is extremely visible. There has been a shift in the coverage of the World Cup. In 2015 the majority of the matches were on premium cable sports channels. Only the US’s matches that did not compete with other male sports were aired on network channels. I wrote a FAR Post about the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
This year, 70% of the matches have been aired on Fox and it is also available for online streaming through YouTube and Hulu. There is even a shift in who is at the table for the commentary and analysis. In 2015, there was only maybe 1 or 2 female sportscasters. This year, about 50% of the matches are announced by an all-female duo and they outnumber the male sports casters by 3-1. The Fox team has employed former Women’s National Team Athletes across country lines. Countless news coverage across the board has happened this World Cup.
The majority of the early group stage matches have played to packed stadiums. Over 40,000 are cheering in the stands. We can also track the changes in the current advertising that has been released. The Global Athletics company Nike has produced two commercials, one that aired prior to the World Cup starting this month and one that airs during World Cup soccer that is phenomenal. Adidas has also gotten in on the mix highlighting the importance of women in sports, representation, and visibility. Visibility and representation in sports is a gateway to women’s visibility, representation, and equality in society.
Across the board, all the women’s national teams are less funded, placed in secondary training facilities, less sponsored, and not well known. After the highly successful 2015 World Cup in Canada, things have started to shift. More and more training facilities, local and national clubs have been established, even professional leagues have even been created specifically for Women’s soccer. There is a palatable shift in what is happening in Women’s soccer.
There is still a stigma that women’s sports are not as challenging, entertaining, or competitive. The German Women’s National team, one of the most successful teams with being two-time World Cup Champions and Olympic Medalists. They continue to struggle within their own country for recognition and support. They produced a video that speaks volumes.
Therefore representation, support, infrastructure matter. Women athletes are digging in to ensure equal pay, representation, and support. This World Cup is proving this one match, one team at a time. There are equal parts of improvement and struggle. Argentina’s national team is not fully funded by their national foundation.
Two teams have struggled to play in international matches as their home countries do not have an infrastructure to support them. The Nigeria Women’s National Team were not allowed to play in their home country during 2017. Thailand, for example, has never had their men’s national team play in a World Cup but the Women’s National Team made it.
The Women’s team has been systematically less funded then the men’s, yet they also qualified for the 2015 World Cup. Thailand’s Women’s National team were playing as early as 1975 but did not make international appearances until the early 2000s.
Thailand has also been in the news this World Cup as they were the team that faced the US Women’s Team in their first match. The US women came out swinging and dealt a crushing blow of 13-0. Not only dominating the field but establishing the new World record of most goals scored in a World Cup match. The previous record was help by the German National Women’s team with their 2015, 11-0 win over Argentina. The US win was outstanding. I watched it with utter disbelief, wonder, and pure joy as I watched goal after goal and thinking how phenomenal women truly are. But the US team has received a LOT of heat from this win. From continuing with the scoring after each consecutive win.
I kept asking myself after I heard and read article after article about how ‘distasteful’ how ‘disrespectful’ how ‘un-sportsman like’ the US was in the goals and in their celebrations, why have they not asked the Thai players how they felt during and after the match? The Thai goalkeeper has spoken on how she was thankful for Carli Lloyd’s words after the match, how while it was a devastating loss she is hungry to get better. The cameras after the match also showed how the US team valued, thanked, and comforted their Thai opponents.
THAT is what matters. With defeat comes learning, creates a bar to which one strives to get better. As the World Recorder retired soccer legend Abby Wambach states in her inspirational book Wolf Pack – Failure is your Fuel. There was also a sportscaster that brought up how no one talked about how unsportsmanlike, improper, or inappropriate the 1992 US Olympic Men’s Basketball team’s 44 plus point win was. AND they celebrated and they were CELEBRATED. SO, let’s celebrate the excellence of the US Women’s team, let’s celebrate all who were able to make the 2019 World Cup and every loss and win – they both make up every one of us.
While I have been watching the matches, I have been blown away with the amount of facts regarding the rising trend of country’s creating women’s academies and leagues. The Spanish National team has a record 20 out of 23 of their squad playing within their own country. Even in 2015, most of the jobs were still in North America. The 2002 film, Bend it Like Beckham, highlighted very incognito about how women’s soccer -in the 90s was only being taken serious in the US. This film is based in England – where soccer is a form of air- yet was maintained as a male sport. The ending of the film has the two main characters get scholarships to Santa Clara University in the United States.
For a very long time, the US has been where Women’s soccer has flourished. One of the sportscasters mentioned on Sunday June 16th that the success and growth of the US Women’s National team and the overall growth of the sport might heavily be linked to Title 9. What is also shows is how great the US Women’s Soccer team is. The US Men’s team has never won a World Cup nor even made it to the final. The best result they have had was in 1930 when they won third place. They failed to make the 2018 World Cup, yet they are still paid more then their female counterparts. The US Women’s Teams has won the World Cup three times, they are also Gold Medal Olympians. They are the most successful women’s team period. Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, and Alex Morgan all hold world records that even beat the superstars Cristian Ronaldo, Neymar, and Leo Messi. They are just as much Feminist Icons, activists, and mover shakers as those in academics.
I don’t doubt that in four year’s time when the next Women’s World Cup plays again, we will see much more growth, new countries, and high-quality athleticism.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Whittier College. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Anjeanette also writes for the activist blog, Engaged Gaze. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it. Anjeanette has had a love affair with books from a very young age and always finds time in her demanding academic career to crack open a new book.