In case you missed it, the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer tournament finished last Sunday after a month of festivities throughout Canada and a resounding win by the US Women's National Team against Japan. I wasn’t there for the final in person, but I did attend the semi-final match against Germany in Montreal and watched the other games on TV. It was an absolutely incredible experience, but after the confetti and awards ceremony and player interviews and the NYC ticker tape parade, there are still a lot of thoughts, opinions, and concerns regarding the state of women’s soccer.
Women’s soccer, to me, evokes very mixed, very intense emotions. First, there is that absolute joy as a fan and soccer player in watching the beloved, beautiful game. Seeing the players on the international level, particularly at the World Cup tournament, is incredible because you know how much those players want it, have worked for it, and are finally achieving it. The players’ emotions are palpable - you can see them want to win, and they act on that desire. This is so important for all the girls who need to see adult women role models - athletic, ambitious, and passionate - but it’s also important for all the adult women who, burdened under societal expectations, may have forgotten what it’s like to want like that and not be afraid of showing that want. Call it what you like - passion, leaning in, taking your place at the table, constantly engaging in the dialogue, whatever - sometimes the most important thing is to see an example, a role model, what’s possible, and what could be. I felt this joy at the semi-final game, and my optimism grows with every new headline about women’s sports.
But even with boundless optimism, I am frequently frustrated. Too often star players are pushed out of the sport, either because they can’t make ends meet or because of on-going discrimination. Women’s soccer hardly pays. The USWNT got petty pocket change for winning the whole tournament in comparison to the USMNT last year, who were eliminated after group round in the men’s World Cup tournament in 2014. The months leading up to the 2015 World Cup tournament were shadowed by FIFA scandals and turf wars. But at least in the USA the players are professional, paid athletes, unlike other teams whose players may work 9-to-5 jobs before training for the world stage in their “free time.” On top of this many women soccer players constantly come up against persistent machismo: “Why do you want to play soccer? Why do you want to be a professional athlete? That’s not womanly or girly or feminine.” Or maybe the naysayers say, “Nobody watches women’s sports. How do you expect to make a living?” assuming they don’t add something derisive and inflammatory like, “Nobody wants to watch women’s sports. Why would they? It’s boring.” (I dare you to say that to Serena Williams after her Wimbledon win this weekend). There seems to be a sort of hatred reserved only for women’s team sports. There’s something about organized women working together for a common goal that strikes fear into the hearts of traditional societal powers. They can see a glimmer of what I feel: a pure, passionate joy that inspires optimism and hope, as well as an ever-simmering rage. Mix these emotions with some sort of organization, and you could change the world.
So what can you do? Support women's soccer. Watch NWSL games. If you don't have a team near you (HELLO, can we get the Carolina Courage back??), you can stream the games on NWSL's schedule page. The WWC players will be back on the pitch after some well-deserved rest in time for exciting games leading up to the play-offs. Support the USWNT on their international friendly matches and their victory tour. Check out the American Outlaws supporters' group. Go to a college game (I recommend the UNC Tar Heels, but I’m very biased). Support girls’ soccer. This is so important! Encourage your daughters, sisters, nieces, anyone to play the sport they love (even if it’s something other than soccer), and to keep playing for as long as they can and want. Play soccer yourself. Equal opportunity and pay for women’s soccer won’t come overnight, we know that. But if we supply the demand, it will come.
Want to know more? Check out these websites:
“Keep Her In the Game” Women’s Sports Foundation http://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/support-us/keep-her-in-the-game
“Live Your Goals” (#LiveYourGoals) FIFA http://lyg.fifa.com/
This Girl Can (#ThisGirlCan) http://www.thisgirlcan.co.uk/
“Better For It” (#BetterForIt) Nike http://news.nike.com/news/nike-powers-women-to-be-betterforit
“I Will What I Want” Under Armour https://www.underarmour.com/en-us/iwillwhatiwant
Lean In (#LeanIn) http://leanin.org/
Good article on how to support girls and keep them in the game: http://breakingmuscle.com/womens-fitness/keeping-girl-athletes-in-the-game