“We wouldn’t have known the Women’s World Cup was happening if you hadn’t said anything.”
I sat in front of him tight-lipped, giving a pitiful smile. Most likely, I also rolled my eyes.
Although I’m passionate about all forms of football, I generally don’t force it into conversations, especially not women’s football, unless I see a clear opening.
At this particular meal, the guy sitting beside the comment-maker had just asked me about returning a book I had lent him, mentioning he would drop it off next week. “That works, if it’s before Tuesday,” I replied. “Oh, I was thinking Wednesday I’d come by,” he suggested. I smiled slyly and responded, “I’m going to be in France then.” Surprised, he asked, “Why?” And there was my opening. “I’m going to watch the semifinals and the final of the Women’s World Cup.”
I knew that at this group meal, there was a very low likelihood people would be talking about the World Cup but to not know it was even happening was disappointing. While my Whatsapp, Facebook and other personalized media outlets are buzzing with updates, it would seem other people’s worlds remain oblivious to the great tournament taking place. After all, it’s not like every pub, bar or restaurant is screening games like last year during the Men’s World Cup. Some nations are taking pride in broadcasting all the games for the first time – online or on the app, that is. Not on TV. Few countries are actually streaming all the matches on local channels.
Yet viewings this year, as opposed to previous years, are astounding. Brazil and Germany, among other countries, have recorded millions of views for individual games before we’ve even gotten to the semis and the final. Based on the current trend, FIFA estimates that by the end there will be one billion worldwide views of the games – compared to “only” 750 million in the 2015 World Cup.
So, while there is room for improvement, the sport is slowly making strides.
Aside from the increase in viewings, there is a lot to be said of this year’s tournament. It’s been three weeks since the first game, following four years of preparations since the last World Cup. To summarize all that is difficult, but I’d like to at least point to some of what makes this World Cup so important and exciting.
Even before the World Cup began, we saw an incredible act. The Norwegian Ada Hegerberg, winner of the Ballon d’Or awarded to a female footballer for the first time in 2018, stated that she wouldn’t be participating in this tournament. Can you imagine today’s most lauded footballer in the world won’t be participating in the greatest football event?! She is taking a stand against gender discrimination in the Norwegian national teams. Mind you, she plays for Lyon where the women’s team receives access to the same amenities and is given the same resources as the men’s team (and happens to be this year’s Champion’s League titleholders… investment pays off).
But the tournament itself is no less exciting. Here is an all-too-short list of some highlights:
This was the first appearance in the Women’s World Cup for South Africa, Scotland, Chile and Jamaica (all of whom, unfortunately, did not advance from the group stage).
The no. 1 teams from the group stage were France, Germany, Italy, England, Netherland, USA – talk about (almost complete) European dominance.
USA is the past World Cup winner with Japan its runner-up (the latter was knocked out in the Round of 16 by the Netherlands). The Netherlands holds the European Championship title. While Germany is the 2016 Olympics gold medalist team, they lost in the quarterfinals to their Olympics runners-up, Sweden.
There have been widespread demands by women’s teams of their country’s football associations to increase investment in them. The US Women’s National Team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation. They made the headlines, but they are certainly not the only team taking such actions. Sponsors, at least, have started to notice the investment pays off… hopefully, we will see national changes worldwide as well.
Now, of course, like the men’s tournament last year, there are teams that perform at a sub-par level leaving you thinking, how did they even get to qualify for the World Cup. There are complaints about referee calls, the VAR and egotistical players and teams. But it wouldn’t be a real major tournament without those things. And what would fill my newsfeed? Dry scores are a bore.
Lastly, we see the tournament brings with it the non-believers. During these past three weeks, I’ve heard comments such as “I thought I’d be watching a lesser version but it turns out the women have power in their kicks, they can shoot from all over” and “those goalies are better than I thought.” We’re talking about world-class athletes playing on a global stage, shouldn’t these things be a given? The way I see it, these comments are indicative of serious ignorance and cultural norms that are hard to shake off. For the sport to get the attention it deserves, it needs a greater presence.
So, while the players themselves are challenging soccer federations worldwide for better treatment of their women’s national teams, I’d like to challenge you on a smaller scale. I challenge you to watch a game this World Cup. We’re heading into the final stages with the four best teams competing for a well-earned title and trophy. Based on their performances thus far, I can only imagine the level of skill, strategy, and mental endurance these teams will bring. This is an opportunity to watch the great(est) game with great athletes.
Will you accept the challenge?
*Semi-finals #1: England vs. USA on Tuesday, July 2 at 21:00 (local time)
Semi-finals #2: Netherlands vs. Sweden on Wednesday, July 3 at 21:00 (local time)
Third place game: TBD on Saturday, July 6 at 17:00 (local time)
Final: TBD on Sunday, July 7 at 17:00 (local time)