What the FIFA Women's World Cup Means to Women in the World

On Sunday July 5, athletic history was made when the American Woman’s soccer team won the World Cup in a 5-2 victory over Japan in Vancouver, British Columbia. The American women now hold the record for most World Cup victories with three, first in 1991, then in 1999, and now in 2015. According to the New York Times, it was the most watched soccer game in United States history with 25.4 million viewers on Fox, far exceeding those who viewed the Men’s World Cup final game last year.[1] So what does this mean for Women’s Soccer in the United States, in particular and women in sports in general around the world? Turns out, quite a lot.

Both on and off the field the WWC demonstrates what women can do when they work together as a team, focusing on their strengths and working toward specific goals. These inspiring women from all around the world are now role models for the next generation of women whose goal it is to one day participate in the World Cup and maybe, just maybe, bring the cup back to their home country.  

Football is the fastest growing sport for women in the world.  It is estimated that thirty million girls worldwide play football. It is hoped that by the 2019 World Cup in France that number will increase to 45 million. Helping to realize this goal is the FIFA campaign, #liveyourgoals. Launched in 2011, it aims to encourage girls and women to play, participate and stay involved in the game.[2] Participants in the #liveyourgoals campaign hail from all around the world including Armenia, Estonia, Latvia, Wales, Costa Rica, Curacao, Panama, Bhutan, and Kyrgyzstan, granting young girls opportunities that they might not have if it were not for football. In countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Mongolia, and Morocco football is being used as a platform to address issues that effect girls and women of any age. Research shows that girls who play sports such as soccer have higher levels of self- confidence, increased leadership skills, attain higher rates of education and have fewer unintended pregnancies as well as lower levels of depression. [3]  For women who seek to make a difference in their communities, in their cultures, and in the world, these skills remain in play long after the game is over.

And still, despite the growing number of people, especially women, viewing and supporting women in sports, the Women’s World Cup was not without its retractors, drawing attention to sexism and to the gaps in gender equality that still exists in the world of sports and beyond. Even former FIFA President Sepp Blatter went so far as to indicate that in order to increase viewership female soccer players should “play in more feminine clothes.” But concerns of viewership are minimal compared to the overlying concern that women soccer players are paid a fraction of the salaries of their male counterparts. The $2 million purse for Sunday’s championship is 5.7 percent of the $35 million awarded to the German men’s team in last summer’s Cup.[4] The World Cup not withstanding, the salary of a professional women’s soccer player ranges from $6,000 to upwards of $30,000 with minimal opportunities for sponsorship, whereas the base salary for the men begins at $60,000 and it is estimated that soccer phenom Lionel Messi will earn upwards of $70 million next year. If the World Cup speaks to the universality of soccer around the globe then equal salaries should be universal as well. After all, it is the same game. It is the same rules. It should be the same pay.

So the 2015 Women’s World Cup is not only an attestation of how far we, as women, have come, but it is also a reminder of how far we have yet to go.

The road to the World Cup, like the road toward equality is long, paved with obstacles, hurtles, and challenges along the way, but as the women who participated in this year’s World Cup have demonstrated, goals, all goals, are to be lived.

 

 

One step at a time. One goal at a time.

 

#liveyourgoals

 

 

[1] “Women’s World Cup Final Was Most-Watched Soccer Game in United States History.” Richard Sandomir, The New York Times. July 6, 2015.

[2] http://lyg.fifa.com (accessed July 7, 2015)

[3] http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/advocate/foundation-positions/mental-and-physical-health/benefits_why_sports_participation_for_girls_and_women (accessed July 7, 2015)

[4] Newsweekhttp://www.newsweek.com/inequality-hangs-over-us-womens-world-cup-victory-351085 (accessed July 8, 2015)