Women’s sport is in the spotlight more than ever before. The Women’s World Cup in France has been heralded as a breakthrough event, with record global and domestic TV viewing audiences. Many a young girl (and boy) has been inspired to play football.
Who could not be inspired by the American co-captain Megan Rapinoe? The purple-haired player secured her second World Cup in a row, scoring the first goal in the two-nil USA victory over the Netherlands, and in addition won the Golden Boot, the Golden Ball and was the FIFA Player of the Final in Lyon. Not only is she an inspiration on the field, but off it as well, as a strong advocate for equality for women’s football and also a gay icon.
World football body FIFA has been roundly criticised for its underwhelming support for the women’s game. Only 7.5% of the prize money awarded at last year’s men’s World Cup was granted to the teams at this Women’s World Cup. No wonder FIFA president Gianni Infantino, was loudly booed when he took to the podium to award medals to the finalists. Loud chants rang out around the ground for equal pay.
It’s hard to believe it is nearly 50 years since tennis became the first sport to award equal prize money to women and men. Thanks to Billie Jean King, who threatened to boycott the 1973 US Open because of pay unfairness, major tournaments have followed suit. The oldest tennis tournament, Wimbledon, became the last Grand Slam to award equal prize money to male and female champions in 2007.
The story of this year’s Wimbledon has been the meteoric rise of 15 year-old tennis sensation Cori Gauff. It was her match yesterday on ‘Manic Monday’ with ex-world number one Simona Halep that gathered the most attention, together with Johanna Konta versus Petra Kvitova as well as Serena Williams and Carla Suarez Navarro. In contrast, the men’s singles in the last sixteen seemed altogether less interesting.
Despite pay equality at the Grand Slam tournaments, there is still a huge imbalance when it comes to other major competitions and earnings from endorsements. Nevertheless tennis is still considerably better when it comes to pay than football and other sports.
All the more reason to actively support women’s sport and help build the momentum for equality. Later this month the UEFA women’s under-19s European Championship takes place in Scotland, the first UEFA finals tournament on home soil since 1970. Of the 20-strong squad, over a third of the players are from Edinburgh clubs: three from Hibs, two from Hearts and two from Spartans. When the domestic league season kicks off at the beginning of August, these three capital-based sides as well as Edinburgh University Hutchison Vale FC will be competing in the top two flights.
Meanwhile leading Scottish female footballing talents are playing for leading teams in leagues around the world. Claire Emslie from Edinburgh starts this season for Orlando Pride in Florida, Scotland captain Rachel Corsie is playing with Utah Royals, vice-captain Kim Little plays for Arsenal and further teammates play in England, Italy and Sweden.
The 2019 Women’s World Cup was a fantastic spectacle over 31 days and 52 matches. Only the role of VAR video refereeing, the premature departure of Scotland from the competition and the unsporting behaviour of Cameroon against England were a real disappointment. All of that should change at the next World Cup which will be held in 2023. Bring it on.