It seemed unreal. A week ago, barely five minutes into the game of the Women’s World Cup, the United States was already winning by two goals. In the end, the scoreboard told the story of five goals to two against a Japanese side that never stood a chance.
Of the seven Women’s World Cup games that have been held, the Americans have won three of them. They are the undisputed queens of soccer. But asking why they dominate with such ease opens the doors to a story of discrimination and indifference.
First let’s talk about the positives. The United States is far and away the country which has provided the most support to its female soccer players. In fact, it led the coalition that resulted in the first Women’s World Cup in 1991. It has a professional league* – something which seems obvious, but the vast majority of countries do not have one – and it has also created a support network for players that starts in college and continues right up to the professional level. Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach, the two star forwards of their profession, are the faces of advertising campaigns across the country, enjoying the usual reputation of any athlete with their level of talent. The last World Cup was watched by 25 million people on television, an audience similar to that of the World Series in baseball or the National Hockey League finals. Women’s soccer is a national event in the United States. Not surprisingly, half of the registered players in FIFA are from North America.
However, this is where the good news ends. According to the same FIFA data, worldwide, only 12 percent of professional soccer players are women. The reasons are many, but all of them bear the hallmarks of discrimination. Some say the problem is that women do not want to play soccer and that the support of the media and big brands does not exist because it is not profitable. No one is passionate about women’s soccer, they say. But they are wrong. In reality, it seems the root of the problem is much more complex and is more accurately linked to a history of prejudice and of closed doors.
In Germany, for example, women’s soccer was banned from 1955 to 1970. England, the birthplace of the sport, banned women from playing in professional stadiums from 1921 to 1971. In 1971, there were only three national teams. Before the ban, women’s soccer was able to fill stadiums, but the activity was never going to conform to gender stereotypes.
These prejudices, of course, still remain. Not very long ago in 2004, Joseph Blatter, (the questionable president of FIFA), said that women’s soccer would be watched by more people if women made the most of their beauty and wore more suggestive outfits. Similar comments could be heard from announcers and commentators during broadcasts in this year’s World Cup.
Colombia is a clear example of this. Several of our sportswomen have complained about the lack of support from the media and sponsors. They have to beg for support. A player on the women’s team earns only 1 percent of what is earned by a player on the men’s team. Still, our team, which is ranked 28th in the world, achieved record results in the last World Cup by reaching the second round. It lost honorably to the United States, which invests in its women. For the moment, there is nothing more that can be done. However, we ought to start taking female soccer players seriously. And why not?
*Editor’s note: The U.S. had a professional women’s league from 2009-2011. It was suspended in 2012 and has not been revived.