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FIFA 2019 World Cup sparks conversation and solidifies brighter future for women’s sports

The United States women’s national team celebrates their fourth World Cup victory. (Getty Images.)

Long before the whistle was blown for the first match of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, it was clear that the tournament would be revolutionary in more ways than one. Twenty-four teams across six different continents gathered in host city France, rallying to make history for the women’s game. The tournament not only welcomed a variety of competition, ranging from reigning champions to newcomers to underdogs, but also invited conversation into the issues that these athletes face. 

Many of the players, including stars such as Megan Rapinoe (USA) and Marta (Brazil), gave a voice to those who are afraid to speak their mind on issues of sexism and the lack of equality and overall recognition in women’s soccer. While there were few brave enough to speak on these controversial topics, each player at this tournament showed an undeniable resilience to put women’s soccer in the spotlight, and an ability to push back against those who want to see them fail. This Women’s World Cup did not fail — it succeeded in ways that will ensure women’s soccer will no longer be taken lightly. 

Teams and individuals setting records left and right

While the United States won their second consecutive World Cup trophy and fourth title overall, even more records were falling inside some of Europe’s top stadiums. The Netherlands should also be praised for their excellent performance against the U.S. as they played in their very first World Cup final. 

One of the biggest standout moments was the United States’ 13-0 win against Thailand as it became the highest-scoring match in Women’s World Cup history. With five goals in that game, Alex Morgan became tied for most goals scored in a single Women’s World Cup match. Despite the criticism against the goal celebrations, the United States were able to set the tone early on, showcasing the unbelievable depth of their squad. 

Another goal record, however, silenced those who say women don’t compare to men. Brazilian striker Marta challenged this belief with a 1-0 win against Italy, courtesy of her penalty kick goal. This goal advanced Brazil to the knockout stage and gave Marta her 17th World Cup goal, making her the player with the most World Cup goals for both men and women. She and Canada’s Christine Sinclair, are the only players, male or female, to score at five different world cups. 

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The end of the video showcases Marta’s record-breaking goal.

Many veteran players also set records, again by powerhouse players from the Brazilian squad. Striker Cristiane scored a hat-trick in Brazil’s opening match against Jamaica, making her the oldest player, at 34 years old, to score a hat-trick in a World Cup game. This record surpasses Cristiano Ronaldo who was 33 when he scored three goals against Spain in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Veteran Formiga also ranks as one of the most notable players for Brazil as she becomes the oldest player to appear in the Women’s World Cup at the age of 41. She is also the only player to compete at seven World Cups. 

Television audiences skyrocket worldwide

Off the pitch, fan attendance at the games was less than expected, but television audiences made up for it. Multiple broadcasters aired every single match in the tournament. French broadcaster TF1 reported a peak audience of 10.9 million people tuned in for France’s opening game against South Korea, setting the record for the most-watched women’s match ever in France. This number neared the audience number of 12.6 million viewers for their male counterpart’s opening World Cup match in Russia last year. Over in the UK, BBC reported the matchup between England and Scotland generated a peak audience of 6.1 million, making it the most-watched women’s game in UK history. Fox Sports has also noted an 11 per cent increase in viewership in comparison to the 2015 tournament in Canada. 

While it is disappointing that ticket sales were not as high as originally hoped, the important takeaway is that people were still watching. No matter where or how they watched, this incredible increase in viewership shows that people are becoming more interested in women’s soccer. The finals between the United States and the Netherlands continued the streak as Fox saw an impressive 20 per cent increase in viewership compared to the men’s World Cup final last year. These were only some of the major statistics, and several other countries set records seeing a substantial rise of people watching women’s soccer overall. FIFA had projected a total global audience of around 1 billion and the tournament surpassed that with every game being televised on multiple big name broadcasting channels. 

All-female sports panels and referees showcase their expertise

Major broadcasting networks also featured all-female sports panels, most significantly TSN and BBC. The BBC panel showcased former American goalkeeper Hope Solo and ex-England Lioness Alex Scott and Scotland’s Gemma Fay. 

Over in Canada, TSN showcased an all-star packed panel with SportsCentre anchor Kate Beirness as the host, along with Canadian national team player Diana Matheson, and alumni Kaylyn Kyle and Clare Rustad. Despite some criticisms of supposed “sexism” by going without male panelists, it was extremely refreshing to see qualified women speaking their minds throughout this tournament. The panels took every opportunity to discuss some of the major obstacles that female soccer players face, and encouraged the audience to stay involved with women’s soccer even after the World Cup. This representation of women in sports media roles is only one step further to prove that women are capable of discussing current sports topics as intellectually as men. 

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From left to right: Kate Beirness, Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle, Diana Matheson discuss on the TSN Women’s World Cup panel.

Once again, all-female referees took charge at this Women’s World Cup and for many this was their first experience on the world stage. While some questioned the ability of the referees because of their lack of experience, each one stepped up to do the difficult task, which always leaves one team unhappy. This was also the first Women’s World Cup to introduce VAR (video assistant referee) and it is likely many of the referees had not experienced it before. There have been multiple VAR controversies in many competitions other than the World Cup, but the referees seemed to keep their cool and made what they felt were the best calls in the moment. Being a referee is no easy feat, man or woman, and it is crucial we give these women opportunities to prove themselves. Excluding women in any sports role will only promote to aspiring young athletes, reporters and referees that they can’t do it. We can’t let this happen. 

Legends and rising stars send out a final call to action 

After Brazil was eliminated in the Round of 16, Marta gave an emotional speech pleading for action from all the young girls who are the next generation of women’s soccer.

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“Women’s football depends on you to survive, think about it, value it more. We’re asking for support, you have to cry at the beginning and smile at the end,” Marta said in her speech.

Canadian player Janine Beckie also took to social media to send out a final call to action, expressing the importance of following women’s soccer even after the World Cup is over. 

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The 2019 Women’s World Cup was historical to say the least, but the support cannot end here. Remember Marta’s passion, Beckie’s hopes and Rapinoe’s resilience and continue to show your support and fight for the future of women’s soccer. 

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