Fireworks on and off the pitch as FIFA women’s football prepares to ‘explode’

The final victory roar shook Sydney Stadium Australia As cheerleaders dressed in red and gold punched the air, danced to the flags, and shouted “Spain!At the end of a Women’s World Cup tournament that FIFA claims is its most successful to date.

but Spanish victorysecured even without some of the country’s best players, has somehow brought off-field championship debates full circle, from early complaints about unequal pay to a renewed focus on La Roja And their fight against the soccer establishment in their country.

that Uninvited kiss by the president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) Luis Rubiales on the lips of star midfielder Jennifer Hermoso on the podium, just days later FIFA President Gianni Infantino has advised women to “pick their battles” It served only to emphasize the amount of work required to achieve equal opportunity.

In Europe, the historical home of the sport, these familiar frustrations have received a new air. But in Australia, relative newcomers to the game’s big leagues, the arrival of the world’s best players has fans old and new surrounded by stars.

Despite a fourth-place finish – the team’s best World Cup finish – the outsiders’ relative ability to get this far has raised Australia’s bar. Matildas to put the hero. Statues are built, funds are awarded, facilities are upgraded and murals are designed as reminders of how they “captured the nation’s imagination”.

But many in the sport hope the legacy of this World Cup isn’t just one great adornment, but a lasting change that gets more women and girls onto stadiums, courts, courts, courts – and delivers equal pay on the international stage.

Fans cheer Spain's victory while watching the live broadcast of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 in Madrid.  - Dennis Doyle / Getty Images

Fans cheer Spain’s victory while watching the live broadcast of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Madrid. – Dennis Doyle / Getty Images

The World Cup opens the door to financing

For Australians, it looks like their moment might be now.

Arguments about a lack of interest in the women’s game were answered – evidenced by ludicrous offers for broadcasting rights – with record viewing figures. the Matildas Semifinals vs England It was the most watched Australian television program since the ratings system began more than two decades ago, with an average audience of 7.2 million and a reach of 11.15 million viewers.

“I really feel like we brought the nation together over football, which some people would say we’d be crazy if we said this would happen a year ago,” Matildas Captain Sam Kerr He told reporters before the third-place match against Sweden.

But it did happen — and reap rewards not just for soccer but for women’s sports across the country.

Australian fans celebrate at Melbourne's Federation Square after Team Matildas scored the opening goal of their FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match against Denmark on August 7.  - Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images
Australian fans celebrate at Federation Square in Melbourne after the Matildas scored the opening goal of their FIFA World Cup Round of 16 match. Denmark On August 7th. – Asanka Ratnayake / Getty Images

In the wake of Matildas In a historic walk, the Australian government has put forward A$200 million ($128 million) for women’s sports – not just soccer – plus an A$357 million ($228 million) in post-tournament scheme, legacy 23.

The government’s Play Our Way funds will be used to “promote equal access, build more appropriate facilities, and support grassroots initiatives to get women and girls to participate, stay, and participate in sport throughout their lives,” the government said in a affidavit.

It is the kind of financial support that has been long overdue.

former Matilda Karen Menzies, who played for Australia in the 1980s, remembers having to pay for her sports allowance, accommodation and travel.

“We couldn’t keep the tape at all, let alone write our names on the back. I still have a full time job where I have to take my vacation time to go and represent my country,” she said. But there are still a lot of areas that need to be addressed.”

And while the Australian government’s renewed commitment to women’s sport is commendable, Kerr has called for more investment specifically in soccer.

Talking about Matildas After the team lost to England, The Australian star said the mantraWe need financing in our development. We need financing in our grassroots. We need financing. We need financing everywhere.

“The comparison to other sports isn’t really good, and hopefully this kind of tournament will change because that’s the legacy you leave – not what you do on the field. The legacy is what you do off the field.”

Australian Sam Kerr battles with Keira Walsh of England for the ball during a tough semi-final.  - Ulrike Pedersen / Devody Images / Getty Images
Australian Sam Kerr and England Keira Walsh Fight for the ball during a tough semi-final. – Ulrike Pedersen / Devody Images / Getty Images

An increase in participation

How much this World Cup changes women’s football more broadly will only become clear with time, but last year Women’s European Championship He shows that full stadiums can create momentum for clubs and home teams outside the host nations.

After England won 2022 euros, Participation and attendance at women’s football matches skyrocketed across Europe.

Participation has been particularly evident in England, where under-16 girls’ participation in football has doubled. And it wasn’t just about young girls—the participation of girls and women over the age of 16 jumped by 53%.

“A lot of girls come up, and they have role models now, so that was excellent. Women’s and girls’ football development officer in Bromley, south-east London, who was in the stands, said Andrea Ellis, who was in the stands, hoarsely shouting with the others. lionesses Fans during the final match on Sunday.

“I wasn’t allowed to play football when I was younger,” said Ellis of growing up in the 1980s, when football was only for boys. “Anyone who loves football knows what it means to you, so when you’re not allowed to do it, it’s heartbreaking,” she said.

On the eve of the final, Saray Barman, FIFA’s Director of Women’s Football, told delegates at the FIFA Women’s Football Conference that women’s football was about to “explode”.

“There will be millions and millions of girls and women around the world who will sign up to play soccer for the first time ever after the World Cup, and everyone needs to stand on their guard,” she said.

“Notice how you feel on the field tomorrow and think about this strength, this cultural movement, and what you can do in your country. It’s not just football, it’s different.”

Spain's players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2023 Women's World Cup. - Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Spain’s players celebrate with the trophy after winning the 2023 Women’s World Cup. – Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

FIFA, “note”

With hopes high about this tournament’s potential to launch women into par with the men, the final words of the FIFA president show how far still needs to go – not just in financing growth but in changing attitudes.

Days before the final, Infantino told the women to “pick the right fights, pick the right fights”.

“You have the power to convince us men of what we ought to do and what we ought not to do. You do it, just do it.”

Joanna Lohmann, a former member of the US Women’s National Team, called his comments “infuriating”.

“We constantly had to demand what we deserve and demand progress on change in the face of a lot of resistance,” she said. “And that’s what makes me so proud to be a part of the women’s game is the battles we’ve had against the pressure and everyone saying we don’t deserve it.”

When asked about the backlash, Infantino seemed to suggest his words had been taken out of context, calling FIFA the “pioneer” in women’s football.

“In terms of FIFA, as far as I am concerned, I think we have shown with facts rather than words that we are very open, that we are transparent, that our doors are wide and wide open,” he told Sky News. .

And while Rubiales initially dismissed Hermoso’s kiss as a “sentimental moment without any significance”, he later apologized for his “mistake”.

“It seems to have turned into a storm, thus, if there were people who were offended, I must say I am sorry.”

What happens off the pitch matters – not just for the players, but for the fans.

Ahead of Sunday’s final, some told CNN they backed England to win, not just because they had female coaches, but because of Spain’s national team. internal conflicts.

last year, 15 Spanish players have been declared unavailable to choose, saying they were not satisfied with coach Jorge Vilda’s training methods, which the Spanish Football Federation described as “an unprecedented case in the history of football.”

Only three of those 15 players who signed letters of complaint to the Spanish Football Federation last year have been selected for the World Cup squad.

Sisters Avni and Simi Nandu, who traveled for the World Cup from Texas, said they wished the Spanish team “all the best” but were siding with England because “we hate the Spanish coach”.

Louise Nossack of Paris, France, also said she was supportive of England because Filda had “put football in Spain back”.

American Kelly Stroda said, “I want the team to win, but I don’t want the union to have glory.”

A young Spain fan celebrates La Roja's victory over England in the World Cup final.  - Hillary Whitman/CNN

A young Spain fan celebrates La Roja’s victory over England in the World Cup final. – Hillary Whitman/CNN

Despite the controversy, the Spanish national team are now World Cup champions – and while the girls may see a future in the beautiful game for themselves one day – what that looks like will depend on the battles being fought off the field, off the pitches, in football clubs and the boards. management all over the world.

After the final, he was crowned newly-minted world champion and two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Potellas He told Spanish outlet Marca that disagreements with federations distract players from their raison d’être – to play football.

It’s not just one country’s thing, it’s constantly repeating itself. And this is where FIFA should take note.”

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