On October 7, the United States women’s soccer team, the reigning world champions and the most successful team in women’s football, travel to Wembley to face new European champions England. The rush for tickets for the clash is a sign of the new era that women’s football has entered after the Euro 2022 tournament, with its audience records and a final which attracted the largest number of spectators for a European championship match in history, men’s or women’s.
Both champions are indebted to American gender equality activists. United States Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in any school or educational program receiving federal funding, has helped fund an increase in the number of women and girls playing soccer. Three of England’s winning Lionesses, including striker Alessia Russo, who scored the goal of the tournament, are former members of UNC’s North Carolina Tar Heels football team. Left-back Rachel Daly, also an American college graduate, plays for Houston Dash.
The cultural heritage of the American team also had an influence: England striker Chloe Kelly’s goal celebration was reminiscent of that of Brandi Chastain, author of the winning penalty in the American victory in the 1999 World Cup.
It would be an exaggeration to portray America as a utopia for women’s football. Despite the far greater successes of the U.S. women’s national team compared to the men’s team, U.S. players have had to fight a six-year battle to get the landmark collective bargaining agreements guaranteeing equal pay and prize sharing settled. by US Soccer in May. But on and off the pitch, the American team is the role model that European counterparts must now aspire to. The English Football Association and the Dutch KNVB have agreed equal pay for national teams, but the US price pooling agreement remains the standard to beat.
Modern football was born in the UK, but the country has too often been a cold home for women’s football. UK policymakers should heed the Lionesses’ call to invest more in opportunities for girls and young women to play football at school.
England’s march to the European Championship has not only ended English football’s 56-year wait for a senior trophy. It shattered the arguments against investing in women’s football. Each round of the tournament has seen another attendance record eclipsed, including 87,192 in the England vs Germany final. With over 17 million UK viewers, the final is the country’s most-watched TV program of 2022.
Increased season ticket sales enjoyed by women’s football clubs – Arsenal Women, England’s most successful club, sold their season ticket allocation for the first time, more than doubling sales from last year – also shows that there is an audience to be won over.
It is a validation not only for generations of activists and footballers, but also for far-sighted sponsors. Barclays, Visa and UK challenger bank Starling have all shown forward thinking in supporting women’s football, particularly in England. Support from sportswear company Nike has also helped boost and develop grassroots football.
The argument for Nike’s involvement has never been that women’s football is a charity affair or a way to improve the image of a global sports giant. It has always been, and rightly so, that women’s football is a sleeping giant: a sport just as capable of achieving global fame and excellence as tennis, athletics or women’s golf. Potential sponsors, sporting authorities and policy makers would be wise to follow Nike’s lead and support women’s football following this week’s triumph for England and for the game.