As the crowd roared and ticker tape cannons blew tiny gold pieces of paper into the air, the 2015 Women’s World Cup was over. The USA made history by winning their third World Cup title, the first ever team in the Women’s game to do so and crowned a tournament that took the women’s game to new heights.
From the increase in the number of teams competing to new record viewing figures and crowd attendances at the tournament, the 7th edition of the tournament showed a new popularity for the sport. Prize money was at a record high, the profiles of the games superstar players were being rolled out for advertising campaigns, and previously unheard grievances about the preferential treatment of the men’s game by football’s governing body FIFA had a new audience to support them.
As Brazil and Colombia exited at the first of the knock out stages, they highlighted a decline in the women’s game in South America. In a continent known for its passionate devotion to football, countries with a long history of ignoring the women’s game were now being punished for their lack of investment, and ultimately left behind.
South America is on a path to evolution. The macho culture is on the decline and women are taking a stand throughout the continent. Government’s in Chile, Brazil and Argentina are all headed by women leaders, who top a new generation of women breaking free from their old fashioned patriarchal shackles.
There is no doubt that this evolution has brought changes to the world of football as well, with acceptance and investment in the women’s game at last being given to a new breed of the continents sporting stars. Chile’s Women’s team captain Daniela Pardo highlighted the change in mentality towards female players in her native Chile: “As a kid I was the only girl on the block to play it. It used to be almost disgraceful for a woman. There’s been an incredible change. Now it’s seen differently, like something that can help women gain independence. I’ve become a role model for young girls in my neighbourhood.”
The same can said about the continent’s traditional footballing powerhouses – Brazil, Argentina and Colombia – who are now adopting the women’s game with the investment and promotion it deserves. The coach of the Colombian women’s team, Felipe Taborda, which despite exiting at the first knockout stage of the World Cup registered their best ever performance at the tournament asserted that “the improvement came about with support of the Colombian soccer federation. Parents are encouraging their daughters to play the sport; the schools and universities have implemented soccer programs for women.”
These changes are still not without significant and historic barriers of the women’s game, the ignorance football federations have fostered and encouraged by not investing in the sport. The 2015 Copa America saw the continent’s male teams playing simultaneously alongside the women and among many of the South American nations, including Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador, who were all competing in the women’s competition their was a general lack of media coverage. Even FIFA’s top brass were nowhere to be found at the Women’s World Cup. Blatter and his second-in-command, Jérôme Valcke, have been mired in a widening racketeering scandal.
Brazil who played two matches in the Women’s World Cup and the Copa America on the same day, saw a general ambivalence towards the women’s team and barely a reaction to their elimination. Brazil, a footballing heavyweight, known fors five World Cup wins in the men’s tournament, had banned women partaking in sports as it considered the game to be an assault against “feminine nature”. This retrograde law was eventually lifted in 1979.
An example of the lack of importance placed upon the women’s game in Brazil was demonstrated in 2011 when the Brazilian club Santos dramatically increased Neymar’s salary as an incentive to stay with the team and not transfer to Europe. This increase was taken from the budget that the club had set aside for its women’s team, and which subsequently disbanded.
“We play female soccer out of passion, not for fame or money,” remarked Venezuela International defender, Yusmery Ascanio, who is not paid to play for her national team and receives a very small wage from her club side Colo-Colo; meaning she needs to work alongside her football playing and unlike players for the USA, Japan, England or Germany, all of whom reached the semi-finals of this year’s World Cup and hail from nations where women’s football is supported by professional leagues.
Even football superstar Marta, who was crowned World Footballer of the Year an unprecedented five times, has had to seek employment outside of her native Brazil and is currently playing for Swedish club FC Rosengard. “Maybe one day we will have a strong competitive league instead of our women footballers always having to play abroad”, said Marta who first left Brazil in 2009 to seek the employment opportunities of women’s football leagues outside of the continent.
Women’s football is most definitely in a far better position than ever before, though its failings at the Women’s World cup this year only highlights the gulf between South American countries and other continents who are actively investing and supporting their women’s teams. For a continent as passionate about football as South America it is an incredible admission of some of its hardest working sportswomen that is leaving its women’s teams lagging behind the rest of the world.
However, while the continent continues to produce role models such as Marta and Pardo, there is hope that the changes Colombia coach Taborda says have taken place in this country, will filter through to other South American federations, and one day see a continent of all-women teams supported with as much fervour as those of the men.