A new era for women’s football

On October 7, the US women’s soccer team, reigning world champions and most successful team in women’s soccer, travels to Wembley to play against newly crowned European champions England. The scramble for tickets to the clash is a sign of the new era women’s football has entered after Euro 2022, with record-breaking attendances and a final that attracted the most spectators at a European Championship match in history, male or female .

Both champions owe a debt of gratitude to American activists for gender equality. US Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in any school or educational program receiving federal funding, has helped increase the number of women and girls playing soccer. Three of England’s winning Lionesses squad, including striker Alessia Russo, who scored the tournament’s goal, are alumni of the North Carolina Tar Heels, UNC’s football team. Left-back Rachel Daly, also an American university graduate, plays for Houston Dash.

The cultural heritage of the US team also has an influence: England striker Chloe Kelly’s goal celebration was reminiscent of Brandi Chastain, scorer of the decisive penalty in the USA’s World Cup victory in 1999.

It would be an exaggeration to portray America as a utopia for women’s football. Despite the US women’s national team’s far greater successes compared to the men’s, US players have had to wage a six-year struggle to achieve landmark collective bargaining agreements that ensure the same pay and prize-sharing that US soccer achieved in May. But on and off the field, the US team is the role model that the European opponents now have to follow. Both the English Football Association and Dutch KNVB have agreed equal pay for national teams, but the US prize-pooling agreement remains the standard to be surpassed.

Modern football was born in Britain, but the country has too often been a cold home for women’s football. UK policy makers should heed Lionesses’ call to invest more in opportunities for girls and young women to play football at school.

England’s march to the European Championship hasn’t just ended English football’s 56-year wait for a Seniors’ Cup. It has defeated the arguments against investing in women’s football. A further attendance record was surpassed in each round of the tournament, including the 87,192 in the final between England and Germany. With more than 17 million British viewers, the finale is the country’s most-watched television program in 2022.

Soaring season ticket sales from women’s football clubs – Arsenal Women, the most successful English club, have sold out their season ticket contingent for the first time and more than doubled last year’s sales figures – also show that there is an audience to be won.

This is a confirmation not only for generations of activists and footballers, but also for far-sighted sponsors. Barclays, Visa and British challenger bank Starling have all been forward thinking in supporting women’s football, particularly in England. The support of the sportswear company Nike has also helped to boost and further develop popular sports.

The argument for Nike’s involvement has never been that women’s football is a charity cause or a way to improve the image of a global sports giant. Women’s football has rightly always been a sleeping giant: a sport as capable of achieving global prestige and excellence as women’s tennis, athletics or golf. Would-be sponsors, sporting authorities and policy makers would be wise to follow Nike’s lead in supporting women’s football following this week’s triumph for England and for the game.

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