The 2015 Women’s World Cup saw players and fans from around the world come together for three weeks in 6 cities across Canada. As the tournament expanded from 16 to 24 teams, we saw the inclusion of more nations and witnessed World Cup debut performances from Thailand, Cote d’Ivoire, Netherlands, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador, Spain, and Costa Rica. With tens of thousands in attendance and millions of viewers around the world it’s safe to say that the women’s game is growing. And while women’s soccer has been expanding, there are still barriers to overcome.
It is estimated that there are 30 million females playing the game across the globe. And while FIFA announced they would like to see that number grow to 90 million in the future, it comes down to changing attitudes and stereotypes around women in sports. The harsh reality is that girls start dropping out of sports at the age of 7 and continue until the exodus of girls from athletics is at its peak around age 12. This is a drop out rate that is 6 times the rate for boys. The reasons for this are many and varied. Stereotypes that women who play sports are unfeminine and somehow less ladylike are more prevalent than you might think and girls are pressured into more “traditional” activities. A lack of resources also affects the success of women’s soccer. Women’s programs all too often suffer from poor funding, lack of facilities, and poor coaching.
Maybe it’s because I was able to experience this Women’s World Cup firsthand, but it feels like the attitudes around women’s soccer are shifting. Women’s soccer is becoming more visible and gaining support around the world. Young girls are watching these teams and finding role models and heroes in women’s soccer. It’s now possible to follow your favourite player on her club team and watch her play for her country. Women like Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan, Marta, Fara Williams, and Celia Sasic are motivating girls to continue playing soccer with the goal of playing professionally. And with leagues like the NWSL in North America, the Women’s Super League in England, Division 1 Feminine in France, and the Frauen Bundesliga in Germany, it’s possible for women to reach this goal. We are already seeing it happen. Players like Kedeisha Buchanan, Ada Hegerberg, Jiali Tang, and Claire Lavogez are among the next generation of women footballers and their talent at a young age is impressive.
Over the course of these past four weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to see 10 teams from around the world playing at the highest level of the sport. I’ve spoken with people from all corners of the globe and felt how proud and excited they were for the ladies on the pitch representing their country. I’ve heard their stories and felt what their participation in the World Cup means to them. I’ve joined fans from all across Canada to support my national team. I’ve felt the full range of emotions, from absolute joy for a Canada win to total despair as their World Cup experience came to an end. But above all of this I felt a feeling of what I can only describe as a sense of pride. Proud of my country for providing the backdrop for this elite tournament. Proud of my national team for their dedication to the sport on and off the pitch and for all they have accomplished. Proud of the teams making their debut performances and hearing tens of thousands of fans cheering them on for the first time. Proud of all the athletes for the way they play the game.
Many have been saying that this Women’s World Cup has been inspirational. Hopefully we will see this inspiration translate to even greater development in the women’s game around the world.