If you are a sports fan, you probably remember the US Women’s National team winning the women’s soccer world cup last year. To those who don’t pay much attention to soccer, it may have come as a surprise that a team from America, where soccer is growing in popularity however still falls behind American football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey, could win in a tournament that included legendary soccer loving nations like Brazil, Germany and England.
The same surprise was probably felt by those outside of the soccer fan community when the USA found success in women’s soccer at the London Olympics in 2012. However, to those who love soccer, there was no surprise at all, because while it may trail behind other men’s sports for interest and participation in the US, America is streets ahead of other countries when it comes to the female side of the sport.
Soccer Equality – A Very American ThingAmerican supporters may be just as familiar with women’s players past and present like Abby Wambach, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan as they are with successful male American soccer players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, however in Europe and South America, where men’s soccer is practically a religion, the same is not true. Football supporters in countries like Spain, Italy, Germany and England actually pay very little attention to the women’s game, and many couldn’t name a single player from their national women’s squad even if they are heavily involved with supporting a men’s team. The women’s world cup didn’t receive anywhere close to the same level of news coverage outside of North America, and it would be a rare thing to see women soccer players advertising things on TV in Europe – nobody would know who they were.
A Sport for Everyone
In the USA, soccer is seen as pretty much a unisex sport, where much like tennis, women can become household names and even achieve more than men (while the US men’s team did perform well in the 2014 world cup, they certainly didn’t win it!). Attention brought to the women’s team by their Olympic and world cup successes helps grow interest in the men’s leagues like MLS, too.
Starting with the KidsSo why is it that only Americans really take women’s soccer seriously? One of the main reasons is that soccer has always been a popular sport for girls to play at school. In Europe, at least in the generations current professional soccer players come from, it was seen as a boy’s sport, and while girls might play a little, they usually focused on different sports at a young age. This meant that female players who had focused on soccer enough at a young age to develop their talent, and be spotted for professional development, were unusual (as is shown in the British movie about a female soccer player, Bend It Like Beckham).
So, for girls who love putting on their soccer cleats and aiming for the goal, America is currently the best country in the world – and will most likely continue to be for a long time to come.