COMMENTARY: The women’s soccer revolution
Tye Richmond charts transformations in women's soccer over the past two decades.
20 years ago, at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in front of 90,185 fans — which still is a record attendance for a women’s sports event — and 40 million viewers on television, the U.S. and China would play perhaps the most memorable game in the history of women’s soccer.
In that game, Brandi Chastain scored one of the most iconic goals in soccer history. Chastain stepped up and buried her kick to make the U.S. world champions again. While celebrating, she ripped off her jersey and fell to her knees. The celebration became one of the most iconic images in women’s sports.
It kicked off not only a revolution in women’s soccer but in women’s sports as a whole. The team had already won the 1991 tournament and the 1996 Olympic tournament, but it was the 1999 World Cup that still resonates with most fans today.
“The tournament was played in huge stadiums for the first time, and new heights were reached for attendance, media coverage and television audiences,” according to fifa.com. “Spectator figures topped 660,000, the media numbered near 2,500. All 32 games were broadcast live on national television, and an estimated 40 million viewers in the U.S. alone watched the American hosts capture their second World Cup title, thrilling a nation and becoming the story of the year.”
“This World Cup was a world-class, world-caliber, stand-alone event for women like none other,” Marla Messing, CEO of the U.S. organizing committee, said. “In a small way, we were all a part of history.”
20 years later, that 1999 team still has an impact on the culture.
“They had such an influence on me as a young girl and I’ll forever be grateful for what they did,” Alex Morgan, star forward for the current United States Women’s National Team, told the LA Times. “Just the culture within the national team is a special one and that’s one that they were a huge part of. I think it’s important for us to continue to pass the torch and really instill in ourselves that next generation what the national team is about and how we carry ourselves and the mentality we have going into each big tournament.”
With The FIFA Women’s World Cup coming up in June, the USWNT is one of the favorites to win it all. This year’s team uniforms for this World Cup are designed to be reminiscent of the uniforms worn back in 1999.
The win for the United States did so much in this country to legitimize soccer. Soccer for the most part is ignored by American fans in favor of games such as baseball, football and basketball. It was the women’s national team, more than the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) on the international stage, that brought more awareness to the game.
Even with all their success of winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals, they still have a problem of pay: the men’s national team is paid more than the women’s. But the men’s team isn’t nearly half as successful, and the men’s team has never won a World Cup nor an Olympic gold medal.
Recently NPR reported on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team filing a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in March, suing for discrimination on the basis of gender by paying the women’s team far less than the Men’s National Team.
The article states that when comparing pay if each team played and won twenty friendlies, “A top-tier women’s player would earn just 38 percent of the compensation of a similarly situated player on the men’s team.”
“We very much believe it is our responsibility, not only for our team and for future U.S. players, but for players around the world and frankly women all around the world to feel like they have an ally in standing up for themselves, and fighting for what they believe in, and fighting for what they deserve and for what they feel like they have earned,” Megan Rapinoe, captain for the USWNT, said in a New York Times interview.
There has been steps by FIFA to double the prize money for the nations at this year’s World Cup. But the money will still be a fraction of what the men get.
Even though Women’s soccer has made great steps to build and grow the sport. There are still things that need to be worked on and change. The more people support their fight for equal pay the more their voices are heard. The impact won’t be felt just in America but in the world.