During the 2018 men’s World Cup I wrote a few articles about that for this newspaper. I think it is but fair to do the same for the women who are playing in various venues in France such as Nice, Lyon, La Havre and Paris as I write this column with the spirit of equity in mind.
By the time this reaches an audience, group play will be nearly done and the teams will be vying for a spot in the quarterfinals during the knock-out stage. Despite the fact that the numbers will be trimmed down from the original 24 to a group of 16, each of the teams have been playing with much gusto. From the Matildas of Australia to the Raggae Girls/Women of Jamaica to the Orange Lionesses of the Netherlands and the Super Falcons of Nigeria, one sees women on the pitch playing their hearts out. Beyond Japan, many of the women’s teams outside of Europe and which are part of the developing world are happy to be a part of the game but know that with the limited training and funding that they have received from their individual country football associations the inadequacies of not having played many challenging matches will begin to show. Take the case of Thailand, who had beaten their opposition in Asia with scores of 13-0 (vs. Indonesia) and 11-0 (vs. Cambodia) but were defeated by the United States 13-0. Such pointed to the fact that many of these teams did not have the opportunity to play quality games before the Cup, unlike the women of European teams who have played for teams such as Arsenal, Manchester City, Juventus, Barcelona, Paris Sant-Germain (PSG) and even teams in the U.S. National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) during the interim between World Cups giving them a decided advantage.
One should also note that there are no women’s teams from the Middle East playing in this year’s World Cup. It is not that there are no women’s teams from Middle Eastern countries. In fact Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Iran, Turkey, the UAE and Lebanon, to name just a few, do have women’s soccer teams but in various stages of development. Some, like Iran, have a national team but encourage their women and girls to just be fans. Such is also evidenced by the more recent ability of women in Saudi Arabia to finally attend men’s soccer matches in the stadium pretty much comparable to their recent freedom to drive a car. There are some countries like the UAE where the government has tried to grow its soccer program. And then you have a country like Turkey that is working towards having a professional women’s league. Such a disparity was quite evident when our daughter, Michelle, played for the Philippine national team in the summer of 2005. They played in Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam against teams which had Muslim women who in order to play had to have their family’s permission and had to be covered from head to toe in the pitch sometimes despite the brutal heat (115 degrees, where sweat drips from your back even though you are merely standing).
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So when the U.S. women deal with the distractions of pay equity and discrimination while playing their game, they are paving the way for women the world over who are playing with much less because of the failure of their national federations to pour time, money and effort on women’s soccer program development. Because of severely limited resources the men are favored at the expense of the women. In this day and age, it is indeed something to be given attention.
However, there are signs of progress. The Federation itself has vowed to encourage football for women everywhere. Aside from encouraging more teams with the expansion of the Cup from 16 to 24 teams this year, one can see more women referees (26 of them) from various countries in the world including third world women from Asia (South Korea), Africa (Zambia, Ethiopia, Rwanda), Eastern Europe (Hungary, the Czech Republic) and Latin America (Chile, Argentina). And when it comes to commentators more women veterans of the game from all over the world — England, Australia, Canada, Germany aside from the U.S. — have been providing us with their insights on how the game is being played. Likewise, beyond the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of women’s soccer even our very own Winona Daily News has found the space to provide us with information on what is taking place in France.
Although it would have been nice to be in France this year like we were in Canada four years ago, I will enjoy watching the games with my husband from the comfort of my living room with the occasional FaceTime and texts from the kids chiming in with their own commentaries on how the beautiful game is being played by the women.