After a solid final and a thrilling month, the 2019 Women's World Cup ended on Sunday. The favorites, United States, won its fourth title and was the second team ever to win it twice in a row after Germany did so in 2003 and 2007. But the tournament had several interesting aspects to it. Here are some of them:
A Record-Breaking Tournament
For the first time, according to FIFA, the Women's World Cup has attracted more than 1 billion viewers. The match between France and Brazil in the round of 16 drew nearly 59 million viewers, which made it the all-time most-watched women's football match. In the UK, the semifinal of England against the USA was the most watched TV event this year, and in the Netherlands, the final gained the highest TV audience since the men's team match against Argentina in 2014. All these are record numbers and a sign for the growing popularity of female football worldwide. More importantly maybe, is that in a field highly dominated by North America, East Asian, and Northern European countries, seeing the rise in popularity in "traditional" football countries can be an excellent sign for an improvement in its level, diffusion and infrastructures.
The Rise of the European Teams
The popularity of the game has grown in West Europe, and that can be a game changer. Since its beginning, the Women's World Cup has been dominated mainly by the USA, China, Germany and the Scandinavian teams. The 2019 Women's World Cup could be the transition from the old era to the new era in women's football. The USA is still the strongest team in the world, but maybe there is a reason for them to start and worry?
England qualified to its second semifinal in a row, while the Netherlands qualified for the final after winning the Women's Euro in 2017. Furthermore, Italy has qualified to the World Cup after a 20 years drought and managed to advance to the quarterfinals, Spain passed the group stage after they made their debut in 2015, and France had an impressive campaign before losing to the champions, the USA, in the quarterfinals. All of these teams are joining to Germany and Sweden, a traditional powerhouse in women's football. With the knowledge ingrained in the football culture of West Europe, and the money starting to run in it, it seems like more than just a fluke.
The Game’s future
FIFA president, Gianni Infantino already described the last tournament as "the best Women's World Cup ever." He also announced that the prize money for the 2023 Women's World Cup would be doubled, although it will still be ridiculous compared to the men's prize money. Moreover, there might be plans to expand the tournament to 32 teams.
This kind of change is taking place around the world. Following the recent success of the English national team and the record-breaking rating number, the Premier League has already discussed with the FA to take over the Women's Super League, its women equivalent. UEFA already made huge steps like creating a separate event for men's and women's Champions League. Are we on the verge of a dramatic shift in women football, making it more "capitalist" and less "romantic"? Maybe, and it has the potential to do great things for football and women worldwide.
Activism and empowerment
The clash between USA captain and star striker, Megan Rapinoe, and Donald Trump caught most of the attraction. Even after winning the World Cup, the headlines stream continued as Rapinoe was interviewed to CNN and used her popularity and power to call Trump to be better for everyone. In addition to the current federal lawsuit already being discussed for equal pay between USA men's and women's teams, the American football players have put themselves in the forefront of the game and its relation to women rights and empowerment.
They are not alone in that fight. After the final, the crowd chanted "equal pay, equal pay" and booed Infantino for his proposal only to double the prize money. It doesn't relate only to the USA and England. After Brazil was eliminated, Martha urged young girls to play football and to take care of themselves and women's football future in Brazil. This World Cup was full of stories, such as the story of the Jamaican Reggae Girlz, promoting and highlighting the importance football can have in empowering women and people worldwide.
The power of the female footballers has never been so big.