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Tall despite all: Progress in women’s football

Copyrights: 2018 Urban Arena

Tall despite all: Progress in women’s football

This year's FIFA Women's World Cup is being played on a stage greater than ever before. We take a step back to recognise the positive developments in women's football since it's beginning.

Women’s Football has continually suffered from various issues such as financing, discrimination, negative attitudes towards women in sports, the role of women in society and minimal support from football bodies and governments. Amongst others, these issues have continued to be a great hindrance to the growth and progress of the sport globally.  During the second Women’s World Cup in 1995, when the United States played against Norway in the semi-finals, less than 3,000 people showed up for the match. Surprisingly, this was considered to be one of the biggest crowds of the tournament.

The industry has, however, grown tremendously in terms of societal attitudes, viewership and attendance. A game played between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona in March 2019 for instance had 60,739 in attendance - a record number.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup has received a lot of recognition in terms of sponsoring, marketing and advertising. It is also set to attract high attendances with the semi-finals and finals tickets sold out within 48 hours of release. Increases in the level of competition have also eliminated the long domination of the U.S and Germany in the competition who, combined, have won five of the first seven championships.

More corporate sponsors, clubs and national federations have invested in the game by developing training facilities, growing the domestic leagues, and implementing grassroots programmes. Visa agreed to a seven-year deal to be the first UEFA sponsor exclusively committed to women’s football.  According to FIFA, the global television viewers for the World Cup could surpass one billion. More brands are looking to back the women’s game such as Lucozade and Nike in England, and Commerzbank in Germany.

While this may well be for purposes of commerce only, it serves to prove the growing popularity of the sport. FIFA has also increased the prize fund to $30 million, of which $4 million will go to the winners.

This has, however, brought out the huge gender gap in the game since the men’s tournament winners, France, in 2018 in Russia received $38 million and the overall prize money was $400 million. It is still progress nonetheless since no money was awarded in the first four women’s tournaments.

However, this is not to say the game does not continue to experience challenges. The U.S. women’s team has sued U.S. Soccer twice in the last three years, charging them with gender discrimination in terms of pay and working conditions.  FIFA itself did not have a women’s division until 2016 and only developed a strategy to boost its commercial value and reinforce its foundations in October 2018. Many teams have conducted public campaigns for more support and financing from their federations. 

Evidently, the discrimination and societal stigma attached to girls playing the game may have reduced but the battle is still far from over. Cooperation and coordination across all levels will be required to foster a self-sustaining game.

Change may be slow but the progress is undeniable. 


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Judith Macharia


Thursday, June 13, 2019 - 14:45