The women’s world cup final or Love Island? Initially I asked my mum if we could turn the channel over to ITV to watch the drama unfurl in Casa Amore, however, after she pleaded with me to carry on watching the USA beat the Netherlands 2 - 0 last night, I realised that this was more than a decision about television; it was a matter of feminism. After pondering the choice between a program based on misogyny or a celebration of progressing equality, I, thankfully, decided on the latter.
The women’s FIFA world cup has been held every four years since 1991, compared to the men’s equivalent, which was established in 1930, it is relatively young. It is an international football competition contested by the senior women’s national teams of the members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sports international governing body. There were a number of similar competitions when the ban – yes there was an actual BAN – on women’s football was lifted in several countries in 1970. However, it wasn’t until Ellen Wille declared that there needed to be a better effort from the FIFA Congress in promoting the women’s game that the invitation tournament was held in China in order to determine whether a women’s world cup was feasible- the US won this, too.
Since then, previous world cup titles have been won by the USA, Germany, Japan and Norway. But what about England? It can’t be denied that the England team gave the US a good fight last Tuesday and the strength of the women on both teams is something to be rivalled; playing an extremely fast paced match in the heat and still, at the end, having enough moisture in their body to shed a few tears. Our team has been governed by FIFA since 1993, has qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup five times out of seven and has reached the quarter finals three times. In 2015, the team came third. Despite not reaching the 2019 final, this year the Lioness’s have made history, not women’s football world cup history, but football world cup history, with Ellen White, a Manchester City Forward, being the first England player to score in five straight World Cup games.
As well as her incredible striking ability, Ellen’s goal celebration has been a topic of conversation amongst fans throughout the competition. Apparently, by holding her hands to her face and using her fingers to make goggles, Ellen is paying homage to the Bundesliga player Anthony Modeste. She said in an interview that after her and her husband went to a match and saw Modeste score a late winner, celebrating the goal with goggle fingers, and they decided it would be a good idea for her to do it too. I’m not sure about goal celebration etiquette but, I can imagine, if someone stole The Bolt after winning a hundred metre race, Usain wouldn’t be best pleased. However, as Ellen is flying the flag for strong women, I’m sure we can all let her off.
Women’s strength and gender equality has always been in the background of women’s football. In fact, the most celebrated women’s player of the year, UEFA Champion and Ballon D’Or winner Ada Hegerberg is not participating in the World Cup because of inequality in her country. Although Norway is actually the first country to offer equal pay to men and women’s football teams, Ada claims that it’s about more than just money. The football environment is swarming with men in power who, she claims, “have the responsibility to put the women in the right place” and this is where there is a long way to go. In May of this year, UEFA Champions League launched a women’s football development and strategy initiative which aims to double the number of women players in Europe by 2024. This program will encourage an increase of financial backing and development programs and aims to tackle sexism within the game.
It’s clear that we have come a long way since the ban on women’s football was lifted but with continuing sexual abuse occurring in the Afghanistan women’s national team, sexism within the game taking place consistently throughout Europe and the Pakistan team remaining stagnant due to complete mismanagement and disinterest from federation executives, there is still work to do. However, a record 11.7 million people tuned in to watch the England vs USA match last week and the USA victory over the Netherlands last night has been hard to miss on social media and international news stories, it may not have been a UK win but it was certainly a win for women's football.