There are people who don’t have a clue about football. Then there are people who are intensely passionate about ‘the beautiful game’ – who will travel around the world just to see their team play, win or lose.
The vast majority of people, however, are people who aren’t either. Aware of football – of course we are, in this country – to be mildly interested whenever it comes up in conversation, but that’s about it.
However, no one can deny the fun of a World Cup.
It’s the one time we get to believe in our national team again. It makes us proud of our country and proud of our athletes. For half a summer, we’re happy again. Hopeful.
Of course, that quite often backfires, but it’s good while it lasts, eh?
These were all emotions that were present at this year’s World Cup. But it felt different – and even more nail-biting than usual. This year, there was an added significance to the beautiful game that you don’t feel in the men’s World Cup – and that was the feeling that really brought home why the woman’s football World Cup was so important.
1. For the first time, we saw adverts – on shop windows, on TV, everywhere!
Whereas sports broadcasts are dominated by men, this summer we got to see women athletes screaming their joy on the pitch. Ronaldo and Messi were out of sight, out of mind for a while – it was White, Morgan, Rapinoe, who dared us to join in.
In terms of advertising, there’s nothing more motivating than seeing a face like your own. And while men have been blessed with seeing very manly faces on their screens, all the time, this summer there were images of women everywhere. And that was incredibly empowering.
2. This was a chance to show investors that women’s sports sell
The problem with women’s sports is not the sports itself – it’s the investment. The women’s teams don’t get anywhere near the amount of money, time and resources as the men’s teams are lavished with. While trading between men’s league teams are publicised, and are very publicly very expensive, the women’s teams simply can’t do the same thing. And if there’s no money going to the women’s game, then women and girls will be turned off from it.
However, the Women’s World Cup generated an incredible amount of money for sponsors and investors. No doubt they’ll be putting their money where their mouth is from now on.
3. The athletes showed that women can do it just as well
England getting to the semi-finals was a dream come true – and a dream that came true after the men’s team reached the same rank a year before. Although England were knocked out by the USWNT – a team with a lot more support and funding – it showed the country that women were just as good as the men.
In fact, they were just as good as the men, with fewer resources behind them. Imagine what they could achieve if they were given the same treatment as the men.
Of course, the stars of the show were always going to the USWNT, who have tons of support back at home and a hefty pool of investment. They stormed through the stages, knocking everyone out to win spectacularly. The glory of the beautiful game was right there – with all the drama of the Men’s World Cup! And they’ve won it three times – more times than the US men’s team too!
4. Call for equal pay
As with my previous point, the disparity between women’s and men’s sports are astounding – and simply comes down to sexism. This is something the USWNT are challenging in court, and have been doing throughout the Women’s World Cup, demanding a higher pay to equal the salaries of their less successful male counterparts.
With the popularity of the Women’s World Cup and the support the players have, it seems likely that they’re going to win – although those who want to make excuses will happily do so. But at this point, it seems like a waste of time to try to contend it. The international teams have already proven a thousand times over that they deserve to be considered equals.
5. Representing women – in all our diversity
‘I’m not going to the White House,’ was USWNT’s captain Megan Rapinoe’s response when asked about the possibility of them winning and receiving the invitation from President Trump. And she has good reason to announce it – Trump later denigrated Rapinoe on Twitter, and his supporters attacked her – demanding the team win before she talked down the President like that.
So she did.
As a gay woman, on a team with other gay women, Rapinoe represents women in the world today. In fact, all of the team do – and so did the other teams in the Women’s World Cup. Athletes have influence and a responsibility just as much as other celebrities, to be spokespeople and representatives for others – particularly when these identities are denigrated and challenged. England’s commitment to representation in the face of a divided Britain and the USWNT’s defiance in the face of Trump have brought a hard-hitting message back to home: sports is for everyone. Nothing said that better than the Women’s World Cup.