By Samindra Kunti in Paris
June 7 – ‘Dare to shine’. Tonight the hosts and South Korea will try and convert that slogan on to the pitch at the curtain raiser of the France 2019 Women’s World Cup. On the sidelines US legend Mia Hamm issued another rallying cry for more investment in the women’s game.
The double world and Olympic champion was speaking at FIFA’s Women’s Football Conventions hours before the Women’s World Cup kick-off at the Parc des Princes, the home of Paris Saint-Germain. She acknowledged the profile of the women’s game has risen considerably since her heydays at the 1999 World Cup when the US stormed to the global crown on home soil in front of full stadiums and with massive media coverage.
“You see the level of the game has just sky rocketed so much,” said Hamm “It is due to the fact that you see investment being made, not just at national team level but at youth levels. All the teams can play on the fly and adapt, whatever the opposition is doing. The small investment that has been made, just see what it has done to the game.”
This Women’s World Cup is set to be the biggest iteration of any tournament in the women’s game yet, but the event still arrives in a time of disruption and revolt within the game. The US team are embroiled in a law suit over gender discrimination and pay with their football association, U.S Soccer, while arguably the world’s best player, Ada Hegerberg from Norway, has decided to boycott the Women’s World Cup until her federation, the NFF, delivers equal working conditions. The Australian players’ union has also complained about the minimal prize money on offer.
Hamm said that impactful as the “small investment” has been, it is not enough.
“Young girls were always playing, but as they got to a certain age there was no environment in which they were encouraged to continue,” said Hamm. “That has changed. There is still a lot we need to do, but you see the outcome of small of investment. If you continue to grow that every year, these players in this tournament and in the US, the confidence they have, they are making it impossible for people to ignore. This is a movement: this game and these players have taken ownership of what is happening. You are seeing it on soccer pitches all over the world.”
On Friday morning FIFA president Gianni Infantino said that FIFA will invest about $500 million dollars in the next four years. The governing body has been criticised over the low level of prize money at these finals, doubled to $30 million dollars from the 2015 Women’s World Cup, but still just a tenth of the prize pool at last year’s men’s World Cup.
“Am I happy?,” asked former England international Alex Scott. “Do I think I need to stand here and think I should demand and push for me? Absolutely. I don’t want to harp on about that at this moment, but I want to celebrate how fantastic it is going to be. I hope come the next World Cup we can say – you know what, we did enough that we don’t have to be having this conversation. I really hope we can get to that stage.”
Has the branding and marketing around the tournament been enough to give maximum exposure to the event? In Paris the build-up to the opening match has been very low key with no billboards or banners suggesting that a major tournament is just around the corner.
France vs South Korea however is a sell out and nearly one million tickets have been sold across the tournament. Local organisers are hoping that the smaller host cities, like Le Havre and Valenciennes, will embrace a tournament that should see the most competitive field yet.
So now to the actual play and finding a winner. “You can never write off the USA, just their history and their pedigree going into tournaments,” commented Scott. “You have to look at France. Every World Cup I go into I think this is France’s time, but they never get it together. This could be their one. Obviously, I have to shout out my home team England. They are ranked third in the world and their mentality – they believe that they can go into the tournament and win it now.”
“It is anyone’s tournament,” said Hamm.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1566676409labto1566676409ofdlr1566676409owedi1566676409sni@o1566676409fni1566676409