Girls Inspired by World Cup Win Despite FIFA’s Sexist Message

Rachel Bertsche
·Writer
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Members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team celebrate their World Cup victory on Sunday. (Photo: Corbis)

As the United States celebrates its victory in the Women’s World Cup, girls across the country are sporting their Carli Lloyd jerseys, dreaming of running the field in 2019 or 2023.

One of the residual victors from this year’s tournament, which raked in an unprecedented 22.86 million viewers in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Japan — making it the highest rated soccer game in the U.S. on a single network — will be youth soccer organizations, which can expect to see an uptick in participants as a result of the success of superstars like Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. In 1999, after the U.S. women’s soccer team last won a world cup, 7.3 million females ages 6 and older participated in soccer, which was a 20 percent increase from the 6.06 million participants in 1987, according to Public Radio International. And this most recent victory — which got very public support from high-profile figures like Beyoncé, Barack Obama, and Justin Timberlake — is sure to have a similar effect, helping boost the youth soccer participation numbers, which were steady from 2008 to 2012, according to the United States Soccer Federation.

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“There is no question that we will be a beneficiary of this victory,” Ian McMahon, national executive director of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), tells Yahoo Parenting. “Anytime there is a success as high-profile as this, with this record number of viewers, for us as an organization, we would expect to see a surge in young girls wanting to play soccer. We believe that, with what we offer, they’ll come in and want to play soccer longer and become advocates for the game. It doesn’t matter where they end up — it’s just about being active, coming out, trying soccer, having fun.”

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Young fans cheer on the U.S. team in the Women’s World Cup. (Photo: FIFA/Getty Images)

AYSO, which counts U.S. national team member Alex Morgan among its alumnae, currently has 204,893 girls registered in the U.S., and they expect that number to increase steadily between this World Cup victory and the upcoming Olympics. But it’s not just girls who were excited by this week’s big win. “We had people in the studio who have sons and no daughters, and they were wearing the jerseys of Abby Wambach or Carli Lloyd,” Fox Sports analyst Kyndra de St. Aubin, who covered the World Cup, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But for young women especially, to have these incredible role models, it proves you can achieve your goals. These women foster an environment of working hard and achieving your goals — they are motivating young women to get involved in this sport or whatever sport or activity they want.”

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This type of inspiration is relatively new for girls. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be Michael Jordan when I grew up,” Danielle Slaton, a Fox Sports analyst who covered this World Cup and a former member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, tells Yahoo Parenting. “He’s great, but I didn’t have a female role model in the sport that I was interested in.”

And while that started changing with the U.S. team’s victory in 1999, this year the team is even more diverse — providing role models for even more girls. “People fell in love with how different the people were on this team,” Fox Sports analyst and former member of the U.S. women’s team Leslie Osborne tells Yahoo Parenting. “Because of social media, players can express their personalities now in so many different ways. This team had a 40-year-old mom of two, a young recent college graduate, and members of the gay and lesbian community. So many kids, regardless of the nationality or background they come from, can relate to women on this team.”

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Young fans celebrate the women’s national soccer team in the World Cup.  (Photo: FIFA/Getty Images)

After any World Cup, the concern is often that the increase in support will be short-lived, as soccer fades into the background until the next World Cup. “But who cares if it’s only every four years?” de St. Aubin says. “You can put good role models on a big stage and hope that it follows through. That’s what ’99 did. All you can do as a female athlete is win to draw attention, and that’s all they do. They win, and they’re good people and good athletes. I hope there’s a spike in participation and it continues, but the test will be six months or eight months down the road.”

But Slaton says the effects for girls and parents aren’t just short-term. “You look back to the ’99 women’s team and you saw young girls who were anywhere from 10 to 20 cheering them on, and those girls are now women who are starting to have their own families and bring their daughters to games,” she says. “It has a long-term effect for women who were inspired when they were kids and are now moms saying, ‘I want my child, my daughter to experience this.’”

And if the pictures of the female fans — sporting red, white, and blue and painting their faces — are any indication, this year’s victory will have those same long-term implications. “Seeing girls out there supporting the team is brilliant,” McMahon, the AYSO director, says. “These girls all of a sudden decide to get their faces painted and cheer for a team and get to know the individual players — that’s fantastic. They’ll always remember this moment. And they are genuinely excited. Young girls are very intelligent; you can’t manufacture excitement. If they are not passionate and interested, they aren’t, but you can see from the images that they loved every second of it.”  

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Alex Morgan greets her fans in the stands after the U.S. team’s World Cup victory. (Photo: FIFA/Getty Images)

It’s just as meaningful for the players, Slaton says. “It’s very inspiring for the players on the field to look up and say, ‘Look at our fans, look at our girls, look at the power I have to make a difference in their lives,’” she says. “When I was playing, it was so inspiring. Plus, you have players on the women’s team who are moms themselves, so it’s probably especially meaningful for them.”

But while all this excitement will likely work wonders for women in soccer and women in sports in general, fans needed to look no further than the medal ceremony to be reminded that sexism in sports is not completely a thing of the past. When models in skimpy tight dresses walked onto the field dressed like Robert Palmer girls, fans on social media let out a collective groan. “Sepp Blatter’s last middle finger to women’s soccer is medal-bearing, black-dress-wearing models from Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ video,” sportswriter Tom Reed tweeted about the president of FIFA. Another soccer fan, Marty St. George, tweeted that the move was “tone deaf.”

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Goalie Hope Solo celebrates her win, surrounded by models clad in black skimpy dresses holding the trophies. (Photo: EPA/BEN NELMS)

“That was disappointing,” Osborne says of the parade of models. “I remember we were in the studio, and I was going, ‘Of all choices, they have to pick a black skimpy outfit?’”

Blatter is on record having made sexist comments, including encouraging female athletes to wear shorter, tighter uniforms. “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts,” he said in 2004. “Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men — such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”

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(Chris Hayden/Vine)

While these comments — and the models that surrounded the winning athletes — are sending our girls a negative message, experts are hoping that was drowned out by the overwhelming support and celebration. “This is an opportunity to change things, and I think there will be a lot of positive changes, and even though FIFA is behind and encouraging girls to wear tighter and shorter shorts, it is going to catch back up,” Osborne says. “I want to focus on the fact that you can look good and feel good and be an amazing athlete. I don’t think it will happen again.”

For now, parents whose kids were inspired by the U.S. team’s incredible win should grab a ball and let their kids start playing. “Just get them out and about, being active and playing the game of soccer,” McMahon says. “Don’t worry about if they can get to a certain level or play on the national team. About 99 percent of players wont be close to being a professional player, and that’s not what you’re looking for — you’re taking a girl to play a game, meet people, and enjoy sports with their friends. If that’s all they ever do, how cool is that?”


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