England lose but women’s football triumphs

Solidarity: Ellen White comforts Steph Houghton after England’s defeat by the USA last night.

Will the success of the Women’s World Cup help in the wider battle for women’s rights and equality? Many hope that millions of new fans will become a powerful movement for social justice.

First, the bad news if you’re reading this in Britain: England lost.

Now, for the good news wherever you are: a new sport has taken its rightful place on the world stage. Many believe that it marks a tipping point in the long march to equality for women — not just in sport, but in every area of life.

The game itself had a bit of everything. England’s familiar heartbreak over a missed penalty, that might have sent the game into extra time and a chance to make it to the final.

The glory of an equalising goal — and then the terrible sinking feeling as the Video Assistant Referee ruled it offside.

The uphill struggle of playing what was simply a stronger and better side: superb, physical athletes, brimming with confidence and a ruthless will to win.

Flowing, swift, daring moments of footballing poetry in motion. Ugly spells of fouling and scrapping.

And of course the final score: 2-1 to the USA.

But for many of the experts and commentators this morning, the bigger picture is this: the sport of women’s football has surely come of age.

Exactly when that happened doesn’t matter. At some point over the past few days, millions of men and women around the world have shed their resistance to the idea that women could be as entertaining as men when playing the world’s most popular game.

They have set aside their prejudices and given it a go. And the evidence is that nearly all have been converted.

The estimate for last night’s game is that over 10 million were watching. That makes it the biggest TV event of the year, exceeding the season finale of Line of Duty, which had 9.6 million viewers in June.

“The unprecedented popularity of this World Cup reflects two encouraging trends. First, the quality of play in the women’s game has improved drastically, especially since the last tournament. Second, money is starting to flow into women’s teams, making professional careers more viable. The two patterns are linked, and reinforce each other,” says The Economist.

Above all, there is evidence that the sheer scale of the sport and its ability to cut across age, race, gender, politics and nationality is proving a huge boost in the battle for equality and social justice.

The US journalist Bridget Gordon writes today about the US team: “They’ve become a symbol for women’s liberation, for feminism writ large [...] current and former players, from Mia Hamm all the way to Alex Morgan, are hailed as feminist icons [...] when the Women’s National Team step out onto the pitch, they are also representing their gender.”

Flash in the pan?

It will take a lot more than an entertaining football tournament to make any serious changes in the battle for real equality, say some. History proves that waves of enthusiasm are soon over, and life quickly returns to normal.

Not at all, say more hopeful voices. These players represent something far more important in a world where the views of women are still too frequently ignored by men in power. Perception is everything. And millions are thinking differently about women this morning.

You Decide

  1. Has the Women’s World Cup changed the way women are perceived?
  2. Is sport more important than politics?

Activities

  1. List three reasons why you think women’s football is better than men’s — and three reasons why you think it is worse.
  2. Using the Expert Links, write a short article entitled: “How football changed the world.”

Some People Say...

“She has probably had the best season of her career. She had the courage to take the penalty and then keep playing football after. She is an amazing person and a world-class footballer.”

Phil Neville, head coach of England’s women’s team, on Steph Houghton

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to FIFA this morning, 13.36 million girls and women are playing organised football worldwide; there are nearly a million registered players over 18, and there are already nine countries with more than 100,000 registered players in each of them.
What do we not know?
How fast and how far the popularity of women’s football will spread. There are still many countries in the world where sport is reserved mainly for boys and football, in particular, would be considered unsuitable for girls.

Word Watch

Offside
It is really quite simple. A player is in an offside position if she is nearer to her opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent.
Equality
At the current rate of progress, it will take another 108 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap report.
Mia Hamm
A member of the legendary ’99ers USA Women’s World Cup soccer team, which catapulted women’s soccer into the national spotlight in the 90s and early 2000s.
Alex Morgan
Co-captain of the current US women’s team, now famous for her tea-sipping celebration when she scores a goal.