With the 2019 women’s World Cup growing closer, fans around the world are anticipating an exciting tournament, with new talent and old talent alike. The event will host 24 countries in various regions around France. Lyon, Paris, Nice, Montpellier, Rennes, Le Havre, Valenciennes, Reims, and Grenoble all have stadiums large enough to host the teams competing. Groups have yet to be decided because qualifying is still underway, but any way the groups are configured, this year should be the most competitive yet. “Soccer is a huge sport in France and the women’s team is hoping to follow in the men’s footsteps and win a cup,” said Franklin women’s soccer coach and fan Kristen Jones. Hopefully, FIFA (Federation of International Football Association) is willing to put in the work to make the hype worth it.
We all remember the controversy from the 2015 World Cup, and how the men and women received different treatment from FIFA. The women played on turf, the men on grass. The women won $2 million in prize money to share, while the men won $35 million. The coverage was always skewed towards the men when it came to advertisement, with only a small portion of FIFA’s website dedicated to the women. With women’s soccer becoming more and more popular, and the final of the 2015 World Cup being the most watched sporting event in America, will players and fans continue to accept less than equal conditions, or will FIFA be called to improve their treatment of women’s soccer?
Back in the day, US women’s soccer players actually had to pay some of their way to participate in the games. They stayed in less-than-acceptable motels. Some even brought their children along to save money. Even today, some leagues from other nations haven’t begun to start funding their women’s side. Teams from other countries have had to boycott playing, in hopes of bringing attention to their next-to-nothing paychecks. Even though we have come a long way from those times, but have we? FIFA has been known to be a corrupt company, with some officials taking millions in bribes. Even with the women’s prize money slowly increasing and more and more fans contributing to revenue, it is hard to tell if this year’s winnings will be just. There is a meeting between FIFA officials on October 26th to discuss the prize money and maybe propose higher pay.
Regarding coverage, FIFA recently launched a first ever global strategy for women’s soccer. “The women’s game is a top priority for FIFA and via our new strategy we will work hand-in-hand with our 211 member associations around the world to increase grassroots participation, enhance the commercial value of the women’s game and strengthen the structures surrounding women’s football to ensure that everything we do is sustainable and has strong results. Most importantly it will make football more accessible to girls and women and encourage female empowerment, a subject of great importance, now more than ever before,” said FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura. This is scheduled just before the World Cup to boost the knowledge surrounding it. When asked if FIFA has improved their coverage of women’s soccer over the past decade, Jones was skeptical. “I think FIFA sees women’s soccer as a necessity rather than an asset. While I think that coverage of women’s soccer has gotten better, I’m not sure I would attribute that to FIFA,” she said.
Another inequality between the men and the women is the opportunity for the refs to use Video Assistant Referee (VAR) which is a tool the refs used in the 2018 men’s World Cup to take a closer look at potential penalty kick calls or fouls. We know the technology is available since it was used in the men’s cup, but for reasons unknown, FIFA has decided against using it for the women. US women’s national coach Jill Ellis thinks this is unfair and the implementation of VAR would benefit the game greatly. “I know there’s training involved with VAR, but guess what? There’s people trained and they just performed in a men’s World Cup,” she noted after a friendly against Chile to NBC Sports. “So they’re available.” US player Megan Rapinoe was upset as well. “They obviously did it for the men’s World Cup, so I think it’s essential to the spirit of the game. If we don’t have it, it’s just utter discrimination,” said Rapinoe. However, some fans believe having VAR did not benefit the men’s World Cup and wouldn’t bring anything to the women’s game. “It takes away a lot of the referee’s job as well as his command,” said soccer player and fan Nik Kovacevic (12). “It took away the excitement of watching the game for me. If anything FIFA should just train their referees better.”
As far as fields go, the women will play on grass, in stadiums that have hosted many important teams and matches. Thousands of tickets have already been sold and crowds will likely be big, with many fans traveling from overseas to watch their team compete.
Women’s soccer in America has historically successful since the U.S. Women’s National team has won the World Cup three times, and many thriving programs for youth and above have been created throughout the years. Another country winning would hopefully create popularity in the same way, lending more support towards women’s programs around the world. “I think winning a World Cup would boost the popularity in that country, so I would be excited to see a country other than the US win this year,” said Jones. Regardless of the winner, hopefully the women’s World Cup will bring awareness to women’s sports everywhere, and bring excitement to the nation.