FIFA Women's World Cup 2019: Showpiece event will help take forward significant progress already done by countless women in sport

The wait is almost over. The anticipation has already skyrocketed as we approach the final hours before the first kick-off the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Women’s international football was on the cusp of a breakthrough during the previous edition, when it surprised many doubt-mongers by becoming the second most-watched FIFA event worldwide, grabbing over 750 million eyeballs over the course of the tournament.

On Friday, when France and South Korea set the ball rolling, it will no longer be to prove that women belong at this level. For two nations who participated in the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time as recently as 2003, it is an incredible achievement. While many have dubbed the latest edition as a platform for change, the truth is women have already changed the course of the conversation in a more positive direction.

 FIFA Womens World Cup 2019: Showpiece event will help take forward significant progress already done by countless women in sport

France's players take part in a training session in Croissy-sur-Seine, near Paris. AFP

Misogyny is not a novel concept when it comes to football. Women’s football has always been looked down upon by the administrators and the footballers’ male counterparts, simply existing as an occasional leisurely watch for many, not to be taken seriously. After all, who can forget the English FA’s appalling ban on use of grounds owned by affiliated men’s clubs for women’s football in 1921 – a patronizing decision deeming the beautiful game to be ‘unsuitable’ for women. And it wasn’t just an opinion confined to the birthplace of football, but shared by countless sceptics around the globe.

Brazil had women’s football banned from 1941 until 1979 through a presidential decree while false medical claims did not allow women to pursue football in France. For decades, the onus was upon women to prove that they were relevant enough in the context of the game to even set foot in a match.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when the second wave of feminism in Europe was in its peak that football federations slowly started incorporating women’s football into their plans and budgets. Programmes were put in place to develop and make women’s football a regular thing rather than an unfavourable offshoot. But decades of trampling on any chances for women to even pursue football as a career meant the game won’t recover until the late 1990s, in some countries until the mid-2000s.

Yes, there were the occasional trailblazers for sure. Emilienne Mbango started regularly for legendary Cameroonian club Leopard of Douala between 1970-1973 where she had formed a scintillating striking partnership with youngster Roger Milla. It was a rare instance when a woman could ply her trade for a professional men's club, a source of inspiration Cameroon are sure to draw upon when they take the field this summer.

It may have taken quite a few years for women to achieve what should have been rightfully theirs, but once they got going, there was no stopping the fantastic females. While nations like the USA and Australia have been the fierce leaders in leading a global change for women’s rights in football, other countries are not far behind. Be it France who are one of the front-runners in this edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup or the Le Azzurre who have a rich history of success in continental and global championships, women’s football has evoked interest in passionate observers of the game and how!

Interest from the masses is at an all time high with professional leagues in Europe and the US drawing crowds out into the stadium. Television broadcast may not be as comprehensive as it is for the men's matches, but it has definitely picked up in the recent seasons. Sponsorship investments have ballooned in the last five years with more and more commercial entities looking to be a part of the revolution.

On one hand, there is a conscious effort all across the globe to ensure systemic enfranchisement for women in football. The legal battle of the US Women's National Team against their own federation for their rights to “equal pay for play” is not only significant in that aspect, but a deep run which is expected from the star-studded US team will be symbolic. Similarly, the Matildas have taken the fight for gender equity straight to the FIFA, demanding a parity in prize money.

Their relative success, the genuine interest of the layman in development of the beautiful game in these countries has made it easy for women footballers there to initiate a conversation.

It is still not all hunky dory for every nation. Argentina, for instance, are only taking baby steps after the women’s football team was disbanded following the 2015 Pan American games. Meanwhile, nations like Jamaica and Cameroon continue to prove what can be achieved through co-operation and efforts. The Jamaican national team, popularly known as the Reggae Girlz, will make their World Cup debut – an incredible achievement following disbandment in 2011.

The current edition of the FIFA World Cup will not only be a game changer from a holistic point of view, but it will only build upon the phenomenal progress already made by countless women in football.

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2019 19:31:07 IST