I think one of my favorite themes so far in this year’s World Cup is the successes of teams despite external circumstances.
More than ever, we’re in a very political atmosphere in women’s football. Teams are advocating for equal pay comparable to their men’s teams and leagues; for more accessible viewership for games from the club to country levels; and for better resources to be allocated to diminish the rates of injury and increase performance, among many other important issues. Despite these issues, the women’s teams continue to celebrate many successes on and off the pitch. This has been exemplified perfectly in this year’s tournament—even in just the group stages.
The obvious example is the success of the Reggae Girlz of Jamaica, a team in deep conflict with their federation. In an open letter penned to the Jamaican Football Federation, the Reggae Girlz highlighted how they continued to show up yet continued to have issues ranging from planning and transportation; to training conditions, payment, and access to resources; to nutrition and accommodations while playing for Jamaica (ESPN). Despite having to crowdfund for expenses not covered by FIFA (that is, everything except for flights and hotels), the Reggae Girlz were one of the best teams to watch in the group stages (Edler). They did not concede a goal until their loss to Colombia (ranked 25th in world standings) in the Round of 16, and they held France (5th) and Brazil (8th) to 0-0 draws.
As it turned out, Jamaica (ranked 43rd) holding Brazil to a scoreless match ended Brazil’s campaign at the group stages for the first time since 1995 and sent Jamaica to the Round of 16 for the first time ever, men’s or women’s.
To not only make it out of the group stages for the first time in your nation’s World Cup history but to also knock out one of the top teams in the world while doing so is nothing to diminish or take lightly: this is a massive success for this team, and they did it without the support of their federation. One can only imagine how powerful, how much better, how much more dominant the Reggae Girlz could be if their federation was properly funding and supporting them.
This is just one of the many stories of success on the world stage. Colombia and Morocco (72nd) triumphed out of their group to eliminate Germany (2nd) out of the group stages for the first time ever; South Africa (54th) advanced to the Round of 16 in just their second appearance at the World Cup; Nigeria (40th) defeated the Australian (10th) hosts and held the reigning Olympic champions of Canada (7th) to a scoreless draw to advance out of their group; Spain (6th) took down Sweden (3rd) to get into the final for the first time ever.
For the first time since the Women’s World Cup began in 1991, we will see a new champion crowned at the end of this World Cup. With Germany eliminated in the group stages, the USA (1st) and Norway (12th) eliminated in the Round of 16, and Japan (11th) in the quarterfinals, we can officially say we’ve entered into a new era in women’s football: an era in which the competition is closer than it’s ever been, and one in which the arguments surrounding women’s sports, and women’s football in particular, have never been more prevalent nor pertinent.
Midge Purce of the U.S. Women’s National Team and NJ/NY Gotham FC of the National Women’s Soccer League put it best on the 91st with Just Women’s Sports when she said, “The geopolitical landscape that a lot of these countries are coming from. . .it’s incredible that they’re [at the World Cup], and it’s even more incredible that they’re putting up these performances with the obstacles and hindrances that they’re facing every single day. To even arrive, let alone keep these scores tight, it’s absolutely remarkable. And you talk about acknowledging that this is a growing league . . . But the ability to expand women’s rights and the right to play sports, the right to exercise, the right to just practice and pursue whatever profession that you want to and express yourself however you want, [it’s] not even just a beautiful thing, but a critical thing, and I think it’s reflected in this World Cup.”
As we draw closer to the final on Sunday, August 20th (6:00 AM EST), I am so excited for the continual success in this tournament of firsts. The global comradery and display of talent have been monumental in moving the beautiful game forward, and I look forward to all that is yet to come.