Women's World Cup Reaping Benefits Of Strong Growth In Sport
The Women's World Cup kicks off Friday in France, and the 24-team field for the tournament is the "deepest and most talented ever," according to Kevin Baxter of the L.A. TIMES. An event "long dominated by a small number of well-supported elites ... is now wide open" and "one big reason is money." Corporate sponsors, national federations and individual clubs have "spent heavily in the women's game, expanding domestic leagues and investing in training facilities and grassroots programs." At the same time, women's soccer has "gained unprecedented recognition." The size of corporate investments that have "poured into the women's game often amount to a rounding error compared to what is spent on the men's side, but for a sport that has long been starved for resources, a tiny amount can make a big difference." The investment in the women's game "shows little sign of slowing." FIFA said that the global audience for this summer's tournament "could top one billion for the first time, which has advertisers rushing to cash in." However, not everything has "gone perfectly." The USWNT "sued U.S. Soccer twice in the last three years charging gender discrimination in pay and working conditions," while Nigeria's players "staged a sit-in at their hotel over unpaid salaries and bonuses" after winning the '16 African Women's Cup of Nations. The challenge now will be to "manage the unprecedented growth of the women's game while also maximizing opportunities to close the gender equality gap" (L.A. TIMES, 6/5).
STRONG TURNOUT IMPORTANT: In Ireland, Mary Hannigan wrote women's soccer is "indeed progressing, spectacularly so in some areas, but more often than not it's been in spite of the powers-that-be, and certainly not because of them." If this World Cup "lives up to its promise it can give the women's game the mother -- so to speak -- of all boosts." FIFA's "confident prediction that the global television audience for the tournament will top a billion for the first time" had many people "pricking up" their ears. Attendance figures for the World Cup are "key," as the "visual impact of packed stadia -- or, at least, near-full grounds -- for the 52 games would be huge" (IRISHTIMES.com, 6/6).
DIVIDE NOT SO WIDE ANYMORE: YAHOO SPORTS' Leander Schaerlaeckens wrote it has been "plainly obvious" for some time now that the rest of the world is "catching up to a U.S. team that had once been leagues ahead of the world." The global women's game is "rising," and the U.S. is "no longer the only nation with a well-funded national team and a proper domestic league" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 6/6). In DC, Steven Goff writes with traditional soccer-playing countries, particularly in Europe, placing "greater emphasis on women's soccer, the number of competitive teams has grown." USWNT coach Jill Ellis said, "The level of competition four years on from the last one has exponentially increased. There are different teams now rising" (WASHINGTON POST, 6/7). ESPN's Julie Foudy said this is the "first time that we've ever seen a tournament with as many competitors." Foudy: "The rest of the world is catching up. They're supporting their women's programs, they're funding their women's programs, and it's literally the first time I've been able to count on more than one hand the potential winners which is something to celebrate" ("OTL," ESPN, 6/6).