Paris: You see the advertisements in Concorde, in Port de Versailles, and in other metro stations scattered across the French capital. They convey a simple message: come and support the host nation at fifteen euro a ticket. Except, stalwart defender Wendie Renard, captain Amandine Henry and top scorer Eugenie Le Sommer don’t feature at all on the billboard.
Instead, French internationals Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba invite you to watch Les Bleus play Albania and Andorra in September, two Euro 2020 qualifying games. On another advertisement hoarding poster boy Antoine Griezmann markets smartphones. On the eve of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, there is no sign of Les Bleues. In fact, the tournament is not part of Paris’ fabric at all. Banners don’t decorate the avenue of the Champs-Élysées. The Eiffel Tower is not coloured blue. On the lawns below the city’s iconic wrought-iron lattice tower FIFA president Gianni Infantino and a slate of legends simply enjoyed a kick-about.
Perhaps the French capital with its broad avenues, culture heritage and cosmopolitan ambiance has absorbed what should be women’s football breakthrough moment, succinctly symbolising the struggle the sport has endured over decades. Lyon will be the tournament’s epicenter, staging the last four and the final, but organisers think that smaller host cities will embrace the World Cup and shed the notorious indifference that so characterises Paris and its inhabitants.
“In Paris, it’s a little bit difficult,” said French Coach Corinne Diacre. “This is a huge city. Our hotel is not in the city, so it’s very difficult to gauge the atmosphere. But it’s the World Cup. We’ve tried to stay in our little bubble for as long as possible, but tomorrow when we get to the stadium it will be a completely different atmosphere.”
The curtain raiser between the hosts and South Korea at the 48,500-seat Parc des Princes, home to French elite club Paris Saint-Germain, is a sell-out. Almost one million tickets have been sold and local organisers say they are selling 20,000 tickets every day. This should be the World Cup, the greatest and the grandest iteration of any tournament in the women’s game, that transforms the sport, entering in the consciousness of football’s global fan base and further ensnaring the corporate world. The games of the French women’s team and the latter stages of the tournament will be broadcast on TF1, France’s leading TV network. In total, 62 rights-holding broadcasters will air the tournament.
The tournament, however, arrives at a time of revolt. The reigning champions, the USA, are suing their football association, US Soccer, over gender discrimination. Two years ago the game’s greatest player Ada Hegerberg, from Norway, decided to boycott the World Cup until her federation, the NFF, worked towards – and guaranteed – equal working conditions. The Australian players’ union has complained about the minimal prize money on offer.
FIFA tripled the monies from $15 million in the previous final in Canada in 2015, but the men’s World Cup prize pool in 2018 was $400 million. World champions France took $38 million home. This suggests that the world federation, with reserves of $2.7 billion, still patronises the women’s game, whatever counterclaims. At the Porte de Versailles, in the south of Paris, FIFA’s novel, two-day women’s football convention to promote the game has largely become an exercise in self-righteousness.
Yet, it is true that the women’s game has grown, reflected by a playing field that will be more competitive than ever. “The level of competition four years on from the last one has exponentially increased,” said USA Coach Jill Ellis, who guided the USA to victory at the last World Cup. “There are different teams now rising.”
The USA (three), Germany (two), Japan and Norway (one apiece) have the monopoly on World Cup victory, proving that only a select few, just like in the men’s game, can win the ultimate prize. The pecking order in France could well remain unchanged, with the reigning champions and two-times title holders as outright favorites, but the hosts and outsiders the Netherlands, European champions, and Australia will believe they can upset the established order. That is what this World Cup is about.
Updated Date: Jun 07, 2019 18:39:00 IST