Friday Newsletter: Why Women's Soccer Will Be the Biggest Global Sports Story of the Next 50 Years
Plus I answer your Mailbag questions
During my short stay at home, between visiting Mexico to cover the CONCACAF women’s championship and traveling to England to cover the UEFA women’s championship, the women’s game has taken over my soccer bandwidth these days.
And it’s glorious.
On just about any day, I can watch live continental women’s championship games on broadcast platforms in the United States from Mexico (CONCACAF), England (UEFA), Colombia (CONMEBOL) and Morocco (CAF). A year out from World Cup 2023, I can get up to speed on the world’s best women’s players in games that matter from tournaments around the globe. That wasn’t even possible in previous cycles.
Fans are fired up about it, too. More than 68,000 attended England-Austria to kick off Euro 2022 at Old Trafford. Another 45,000 at Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat celebrated Morocco’s World Cup berth-clinching win over Botswana. And if Mexico hadn’t flopped in CONCACAF, we would have seen more than the 20,000-plus who came in Monterrey for El Tri’s 1-0 loss to the USWNT.
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Twice a week, I post my Google calendar of soccer games on my radar. There’s a lot of orange on it these days, which is the color I use for the women’s game. That’s a reflection of increased availability and investment.
There are lots of reasons I believe the growth of women’s soccer will be the biggest global sports story of the next 50 years. Part of it has to do with the steep spike of investment we’re seeing in the existing elite game, especially at the club level in North America and Europe. Television money, sponsorship money, it’s all growing at a rapid rate. Business people get it now. Investment is happening. Media coverage is happening.
But another part of it has to do with simply expanding access for women and girls to play soccer in large sections of the world where the opportunity hasn’t been there before due to societal norms. That’s why I did a fist pump seeing this post from journalist Aziza Nait Sibaha about the opportunities that could come from Morocco becoming the first North African team ever to qualify for the women’s World Cup:
FIFA has helped here by expanding the women’s World Cup from 24 to 32 teams for next year’s tournament and opening up more slots to incentivize national federations to support their women’s programs. FIFA also pledged a billion dollars in development for the women’s game to be given around the world, though as is always the case, FIFA needs to do a better job making sure that money goes toward the people and programs intended to receive it.
And obviously, FIFA can do more, like creating an annual FIFA Club World Cup for the women’s game as soon as possible; decreasing the World Cup prize money gap between the men and women; and considering other initiatives that could be successful from the top-down. The development of women’s soccer doesn’t need to happen the same way as it did in the men’s game, and we have seen that top-down initiatives (like expanding the World Cup field) can be successful.
That’s part of the reason why I’m not entirely against the idea of having a women’s World Cup every two years (and losing the Olympic tournament), even though I didn’t like the idea on the men’s side.
In any case, we’ll have a lot more opportunities to discuss the big-picture growth of women’s soccer in the year ahead as the World Cup approaches. But right now there’s so much going on in terms of the games themselves that I’ll get back to focusing on that for the time being. I hope you’re enjoying the on-site coverage!
OPENING THE MAILBAG
Who are some current American players (men or women) you could see being successful managers in a decade or two?
Some might happen sooner than that. On the men’s side: Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan, Tyler Adams, Cristian Roldán, Alejandro Bedoya. On the women’s: Becky Sauerbrunn, Christen Press, Sam Mewis.
What are the prospects for some of our walking wounded to be available for WC? Specifically: Catarina Macario, Sam Mewis, Tierna Davidson, Julie Ertz, Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Christen Press.
Of those, Ertz and Dunn have had pregnancies, while the others have been injured. The only question for me with any of them is whether Vlatko Andonovski doesn’t rate them enough to be on the World Cup team. All should be available by then. My sense is we would likely see Macario, Mewis, Davidson and Dunn. Ertz, Dahlkemper and Press would be up in the air.
The appointment of Wayne Rooney to manage D.C. United is entertaining but it is hard to believe that it is going to solve the club's problems. Does the dysfunction all trace back to the ownership? Dave Kasper? What can save our team?
It’s a great question. What’s clear, though, is that D.C. is going in a completely different philosophical direction under Rooney than the one they committed to just a year ago with Hernán Losada. That requires bringing in a bunch of new players and taking the time to see if it works. Is Rooney committed to spending much time at United? That remains to be seen. Something big needed to change, and I like Rooney, but I’m not entirely sold this is the way to do it.
Have a good weekend!
In my mind there seems more to the story surrounding Ertz as to the reason why many believe that she won.t be playing. Can you shed some insight into the rational?
Grant, I sure hope you’re wrong on Julie Ertz. I’m not sure Andy Sullivan is quite ready for the #6 job yet. Meanwhile Julie has been a core member of 2 WWC teams.