Why the World is Finally Watching the Women's World Cup
This year the stage has been set for what is primed to be the most exciting Women’s World Cup yet. While the Women’s World Cup has always been thrilling, for long-time women’s soccer fans this year just feels different. Within five days of the tournament ticket sales surpassed 1.5 million promising the most attended Women’s World Cup ever. Watch parties are packing out sports bars and empty fields. Players are being featured in advertisements and commercials with big-name corporations. After the groundbreaking 2019 World Cup, the fight for equal pay in the US, and the emergence of a new generation of stars this World Cup feels charged in a way no other has before. What is the difference many might ask? The truth is the world seems to finally be catching up to what long-term fans have known for decades; women’s soccer is entertaining. Not just entertaining in the charitable sense that the game has often been pitched as but entertaining for entertainment’s sake. As a soccer (or any sports) fan, you should be watching the World Cup not because it is nice to support women’s sports but because it is fun.
The group stages of this tournament are not even over, and the games so far have shown us some of the most exciting moments in recent soccer history. Take for example Lindsey Horan’s header in the USA v. Netherlands game. The moment could not have been more exhilarating if it had been scripted. Horan after being knocked down by Dutch player Van de Donk proceeded to have a heated exchange with her that caused the referees to get involved. Moments later, Horan secured her revenge and scored a game-tying goal with a header off a corner kick. It is not only the USWNT that is fun to watch. Colombia scored a game-winning goal in the seventh minute of stoppage time to beat the much-favored Germany this week. Further, Nigeria beat out the host team Australia in a 3-2 comeback performance that showed their utter dominance on the field. And New Zealand started off their group stage with their first-ever World Cup win in front of their home crowd. Of course, it is not just the on-field performances that have made this world cup entertaining. There has been fashion, USWNT had a collaboration with Nike and Martine Rose that saw the creation of pregame power suits for the team. South Africa’s team (nicknamed Banyana Banyana) also brought fashion with their team suits and entertainment with their pregame rituals of singing and dancing. There have also been many heartwarming moments such as the Spanish team taking time to console Zambia’s team after their crushing defeat. Not to mention the plethora of social media content coming out of this World Cup from stars such as Trinity Rodman, Alyssa Thompson, Kristie Mewis, and more. This world cup has something for everyone and there is no reason not to be watching.
As an American and a long-time fan of the USWNT I will of course be cheering on my team. In my lifetime alone I have watched the game evolve in a positive manner. The world watched in awe as each generation of the team continued to push the bounds and redefine what it meant to be a professional women's athlete. From the groundbreakers such as Mia Hamm to the trailblazers such as Abby Wambach the USWNT has always been a staple for female athletes to look up to. Yet, the USWNT has always been an interesting microcosm of women’s sports. Competing and dominating at the highest level at the Olympics and World Cups only to struggle to feel that support at home. Despite often being touted as the best in the world America has struggled to provide US soccer players the needed opportunity to excel professionally. The US professional league the WPS folded in 2012 after the loss of the WUSA league in 2003. Additionally, European leagues also struggled to get off the ground for decades. Now, things seemed to have changed for the better not only is the NWSL expanding rapidly (2 recent teams added and 2 more set for 2024) it has shown the world just how profitable women’s sports teams can be. Of course, things are not only changing in America. Countries all over the world have developed professional leagues for women’s soccer as the demand continues to grow. Women’s soccer has always been exciting the world just needed the opportunity to see it. That is what makes the 2023 World Cup so special. It is a direct representation of the changing dynamics of women’s soccer. Gone are the days of the USWNT and a few other teams dominating the tournament. Each game of this tournament seems more competitive than the last and going into the last week of the group stage multiple groups are up for grabs. Teams such as Jamaica, the Philippines, and Nigeria have shocked the world by competing with higher-ranked teams. Other teams have managed to attend their first-ever World Cup such as Zambia. This World Cup has captured what happens when Women’s sports get even a fraction of the attention they deserve.
After Colombia scored their go-ahead goal over Germany the cameras captured the crowd. Colombia fans were cheering loudly, and many had tears streaming down their faces. As a lifetime women’s soccer fan, I felt myself overcome with emotion as well. Watching men and women alike cheering on their team with all the passion and zeal a men’s team may receive was incredibly affirming. To turn and see my young children watch this with the nonchalance of children who have grown up with a constant barrage of female sports on their television felt even better. As children whose mother embarrassed them by screaming loud enough for the entire block to hear when Lindsey Horan scored her goal just a few days before, they are used to being entertained by women’s sports and hopefully, they are not the only ones. With streaming deals, new stadiums, and the pressure to better cover NWSL games this generation of women's soccer fans have an opportunity to grow up watching and cheering on their favorite players at a quality much higher than any generation before. The time has long passed for women's sports to no longer be treated as nice and instead treated as the norm.
Of course, there is still a long way to go. These teams are still underinvested in and underrepresented. The FIFA President himself was criticized for the minimal attention he has given to the World Cup games thus far. Not to mention the injury issue. Some of the best players in the world are missing from this tournament due to injury such as Christen Press, Mallory Swanson, Vivianne Miedema, and Beth Mead. Women’s soccer still has a long way to go but this World Cup will certainly be a watershed moment in women’s sports. History is being made in this tournament and it seems the world is (finally) watching!