This year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup saw more mainstream coverage and general excitement surrounding it than perhaps any women’s football event of the past hundred years. Whilst countries like the USA have historically been lightyears ahead in their appreciation of women’s football, it’s taken other parts of the world like Europe and South America some time to catch up. However, it looks like 2019 might have been the year to kick off a global love for the women’s beautiful game, with teams from France, the Netherlands and England giving the US a run for their money in the finals.
Whilst it’s not always easy to be a woman working in the world of football, the playing field is starting to level out just a little bit. Gone are the days when female players were banned from professional football; modern football institutions like Real Madrid and Manchester United are now turning their attention to launching women’s teams. Whilst the United States managed to maintain their crown in this year’s tournament, bigger and better things are coming to global women’s football so they could find themselves having to battle hard to keep that top title.
Women’s pro football is having a moment – but why now?
The main reason that the 2019 World Cup has proven so popular with fans and attracted such big audiences this year is a culmination of many years’ hard work. Behind the scenes, women’s football has been receiving more funding, more support and better opportunities than it has since the FA banned women from training on their grounds in 1921. That’s a long time to wait in order to shine, and so women’s teams, especially in the UK, are running with it. It’s easier for fans to be enthusiastic about a game played by professionals who have access to training, coaching and wages that, historically, have been held out of their reach. The US has been pumping their women’s teams with money and opportunities since the early 1970s, but now the rest of the world is being given the chance to reach for the same dizzying heights.
Should the American team be running scared?
In a word, yes. The United States national team has worked hard to get to where they are, but they have also enjoyed advantages that many other international teams just haven’t been given. With the rest of the world finally cottoning on to just how lucrative and successful women’s football could be, it’s up to the US players and coaches to make sure they remain one step ahead. Years of superior training opportunities still gives them a clear advantage, but the new upcoming teams are hungry and determined to claim a slice of the pie that they’ve been denied for so long. Other successful national women’s teams like Germany and Norway are frustrated that they are not afforded the same fame and fortune given to their male counterparts in the sport, but with this significant shift in the state of play, hopefully the gap will begin to close soon. Women’s football was introduced to the Olympics in 1996, 96 years after the men’s competition was played at the Games. After the success of this year’s World Cup, and with a rising number of supporters on board, it can only be hoped that the 2020 Games in Japan will see women’s football make a name for itself.
So, what happens next?
The number one takeaway from the 2019 tournament’s shock popularity across the world is: get involved! The best way to grow women’s football is to support the teams financially, vocally, physically or virtually, whichever way works best for you. Funding and coaching young female football players now will see them turn into the world class pros of tomorrow and can only contribute to the quality and watchability of the game. If you fancy yourself as something of a footie star, then be prepared to work hard and play hard. Professional level football players need to engage their body and their brain in order to be successful. My personal experience is that you can’t just rely on the gym and practices on the field, you also need to keep your mind sharp. In order to improve my everyday focus, I complete a daily crossword, fit in a few hands of blackjack and top up my language skills to make sure that different areas of my brain are getting a regular workout. But of course, there’s always time for a kickabout too.
Make no mistake, the women competing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup are professional athletes with years of training behind them. However, it’s worth remembering that they started out with just a wish and a dream too. So, with the women’s game enjoying such a rejuvenation at the moment, it’s time to start focusing on those women and girls who will be our sports superstars of tomorrow.