Sunday’s Women’s World Cup was a win all around.
This group of women not only were victorious on the field, with a 2-0 win over the Netherlands in the final, they played this entire World Cup while suing their own federation for alleged gender bias and dominated the tournament while dealing with questions about the lawsuit, overwrought (and gender-tinged) dissections of their celebrations, and a public back-and-forth with the president of the United States along the way.
Before the game, the Dutch team posted a video to its social media accounts acknowledging that the U.S. team’s excellence and ambition the past two decades showed their players that “dreams are possible.” Several hours later, the game ended with fans in the stadium chanting “Equal pay!” in the same style as “U-S-A!”
“I feel like this team is in the midst of changing the world around us, as we live,” U.S. co-captain Megan Rapinoe told reporters.
She is correct. The tournament in France drew a huge wave of interest and made history on and off the field, reflecting an increased international commitment and investment in the sport and women’s rights.
Consider: With more than 200 broadcasters in attendance and many giving games prime-time slots on network television, FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, has estimated that this year’s World Cup will have drawn 1 billion viewers for the first time. TV records have been broken across the globe, including in France, the United States, Germany and China.
Meanwhile, within the tournament itself, records were broken.
The United States has won a record four titles, and co-captain Alex Morgan equaled the record for most goals scored by an individual in a Women’s World Cup match, with five in the team’s crushing 13-0 defeat of Thailand on June 11. That result also made history, with the United States breaking the record for the highest margin of victory.
Carli Lloyd, playing for the United States, broke records by scoring in six consecutive games across the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.
And Brazil’s Marta also became the record scorer in World Cup finals, with 17 goals in five tournaments. A second-half penalty against Italy saw her become the all-time leading scorer at men’s or women’s World Cups, surpassing retired Germany striker Miroslav Klose.
As has been discussed extensively, prize money has increased, but still isn’t equal to men’s. FIFA doubled the total prize money for the 2019 Women’s World Cup from $15 million to $30 million, but it is still a fraction of the $400 million received by the players in the men’s tournament last year. The men’s champions, France, took home $38 million — that’s more than all 24 women’s teams competed for in 2019. (The disparity did not go unnoticed: FIFA President Gianni Infantino was met on Sunday with deafening chants from fans calling for equal pay.)
According to media reports, with growing interest in women’s football, brands have been increasingly willing to show their backing for the game. Some are describing it as a “culturally relevant” moment that helps companies tap into new audiences. For example, Visa, one of six global FIFA sponsors, pledged to spend the same on marketing the Women’s World Cup as it did the men’s in Russia. Adidas has also said its sponsored players on the winning team “would receive the same performance bonus as their male counterparts.”
But the real victory is in the conversation. The world is talking.
Just look to social media (with significant help from the spat between Rapinoe and President Donald Trump). But consider: Morgan has a combined 15.3 million followers on social media, including 8 million on Instagram, 3.8 million on Twitter and 3.5 million on Facebook. The official FIFA Women’s World Cup social accounts had seen 433 million views by the end of June, gaining another two million followers.
The rise of women’s soccer is happening feverishly, which is apt.
What is unacceptable is any message that competing and winning will destroy camaraderie, culture and friendships; it must be stricken from our socialization of girls and women. Because it’s just not true.
We must encourage every girl’s desire to do her best. Just point to the U.S. Women’s team — again.
Sports can promote excellence by celebrating competition. This team has shown the world they are not just winning as athletes and advocates, they are winning in life.