10 Things to Know About the 2019 World Cup Champions
1. The Americans won the very first Women’s World Cup (sort of)
All the way back in 1991 (61 years after the foundation of the Men’s first FIFA World Cup), the U.S. stormed to victory in China. Michelle Akers, in no way slowed down by her voluminous ‘90s hairstyle, slamming home two goals for the win and the Golden Boot.
On the other hand, FIFA still considered the tournament experimental, and only retrospectively consider it as the first official “Women’s World Cup.” At the time, they gave it the more cumbersome title: “FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’s Cup.” (Say that ten times fast.)
2. They’re on the move
Back in 1991, the Women’s World Cup was played between 12 teams and attended by just over half a million spectators. It was groundbreaking for women at every level of the sport—for the match, FIFA invited a record six female officials, including five assistant referees and Cláudia Vasconcelos, who became the first woman to referee an official FIFA match during this tournament. The success of the tournament also went a long way towards the inclusion of women’s soccer in the 1996 Olympics. No prize money was attached to the tournament (that wouldn’t happen until 2007), but they competed for the love of the game and for future generations of female players.
In 2019, the Women’s World Cup was played between 24 teams, attended by over 1.1 million live spectators, and viewed by an estimated international tv audience of 1 billion. All of the officials at the 2019 Women’s World Cup were women, representing 24 countries and all 6 confederations. The four semi-finalists (U.S., England, Sweden, Netherlands) all automatically qualify for the Summer 2020 Olympics. $30 million in prize money was awarded in at this tournament, but they still compete for the love of the game and for future generations of female players.
3. They’re hardy
In the history of men’s soccer, only four legendary players have participated in five World Cups: Antonio Carbajal (Mexico), Rafael Márquez (Mexico), and Lothar Matthaus (Germany). But in the history of women’s soccer, ten women have achieved this honor (including Americans Kristine Lilly and Christie Rampone, as well as Brazil’s legendary Marta), and two women have taken it even further. In 2015, Japan’s Homare Sawa laced up her boots for a sixth consecutive World Cup, tying Brazil’s formidable Formiga…until 2019, when the 41 year-old Formiga became the first player in the history of FIFA to compete in seven consecutive World Cup tournaments (1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019). She is also the only player present for every Olympic Games tournament since 1996. World class stamina!
And Formiga’s not the only record breaker. A player “caps” when he or she plays in an international-level match. The most capped male players in soccer history include Ahmed Hassan (Egypt, 184 caps), Mohamed Al-Deayea (Saudia Arabia, 178 caps), and Claudio Suarez (Mexico, 178 caps). The most capped female players in world football include Kristine Lilly (US, 352 caps), Christie Rampone (US, 311 caps), and now Christina Sinclair (Canada, 282 caps) who head the list of 21 women who have exceeded 200 caps.
4. In the grander scheme of things, they don’t get paid much
According to Forbes, in 2019, the three highest paid athletes in the world are all soccer superstars, who easily cleared $100 million in earnings this year: Lionel Messi ($92 million in salary/winnings, plus $35 million in endorsements), Christian Ronaldo ($65 million in salary/winnings, plus $44 million in endorsements), and Neymar ($75 million in salary/winnings, plus $30 million in endorsements. The other top ten spots are held by Canelo Alvarez ($94 million, boxing), Roger Federer ($93.4 million, tennis), American football’s Russell Wilson ($89.5 million) and Aaron Rogers ($89.3 million), and basketball’s LeBron James ($89 million), Stephen Curry ($79.8 million), and Kevin Durant ($65.4 million).
To put that in perspective, according to Forbes 2018, eight of the top ten female athlete earners are tennis stars, and all ten collectively earn almost as much as Neymar earns on his own:
- Serena Williams ($62 thousand in prizes, $18 million in endorsements)
- Caroline Wozniacki ($7 million prizes, $6 million endorsements)
- Sloane Stephens ($5.7 million prizes, $5.5 million endorsements)
- Garbine Muguruza ($5.5 million prizes, $5.5 million endorsements)
- Maria Sharapova ($1 million prizes, $9.5 million endorsements)
- Venus Williams ($4.2 million prizes, $6 million endorsements)
- Simona Halep ($6.2 million prizes, $1.5 million endorsements)
- Angelique Kerber ($3 million prizes, $4 million endorsements)
The number 7 spot is held by Indian badminton player P.V. Sindhu ($500 thousand prizes, $8 million endorsements), and the number 9 spot goes to race car driver, Danica Patrick ($3 million prizes, $4.3 million endorsements).
So how to the female soccer players compare?
U.S.A.’s Alex Morgan is probably the highest-paid female athlete in women’s soccer today. In a World Cup year, playing for the most successful team in history (4 World Cups and 4 Olympic Gold medals in two decades) her salary, prizes and endorsements add up to around $1 million, total. Sounds pretty anemic in comparison, right?
5. (Or do they?) In one sense, the women a bigger cut from FIFA
Athlete salaries have always been driven by profits, not by hard work or intrinsic skill. (Male Olympic gymnasts never see a fraction of the payout that male American baseball players take for granted, but no one suggests that they aren’t outstanding athletes.)
FIFA is, like most corporations, fundamentally about making money. And while women are on the fast track to drawing new crowds, the men are still the higher earners. The Men’s World Cup in Russia generated over $6 billion in revenue, of which $400 million went to players in prize money (roughly 7%). Four years ago in Vancouver, the Women’s World Cup brought in $73 million, of which $15 million was disbursed in prize money (almost 21%). So, while the total women’s prizes were a fraction of the men’s (2.6%), and the winning team took home only $2 million (compared to the men’s $35 million), their relative revenue/earnings ratio represents FIFA’s commitment to developing women’s sports.
And FIFA doubled the women’s prize money from 2015 to 2019. This year’s winning team takes home $4 million of the $30 million in total prizes, which is also a relatively high cut of projected revenue (although the numbers haven’t yet been tallied).
And how do they feel about it?
Just a few minutes after the women slammed to a shut-out victory in Lyon, the crowd turned from cheering to chanting “Equal Pay!” But, since the audiences ultimately control revenue, only time (and viewer demand) will determine whether these record-breaking athletes will get the paychecks to match their superb athleticism.
6. They have a chick for a mascot
Which sounds like an awkward pun/metaphor, but it’s true.
The original FIFA mascot was invented as a marketing ploy (what else?) in England back in 1966. “World Cup Willie” appeared on the field, and on a whole host of memorabilia (from tea trays to plushy toys) that add to the tournament’s baseline revenue.
Since then, the mascots have been pitched to appeal to younger audiences, and the associated products marketed primarily to children. And the same has held true for the women. This year’s mascot “Ettie” is a chick (or “gallus gallus domesticus”) with “a passion for life and football.” She may be a step up from China’s reinvented Hua Mulan (with soccer ball hair), but it is not at all creepy that she’s supposed to be the daughter of the 1998 Men’s World Cup mascot Footix.
Even if that would presumably make her mother the 1999 Women’s World Cup mascot, Nutmeg the fox.
Because foxes love chickens…
7. They’re changing the questions that sportscasters ask
In all of the interviews leading up to the World Cup, the oddest thing that you’ll hear are the questions that you don’t hear. Staple questions for major athletes draw attention to the individual: “What is your greatest strength/weakness?” “How do you handle stress/pressure?” “What was your greatest accomplishment as an athlete?” “What excites you the most about the sport?” “How did you first start in the sport?” “What do you hope to achieve in the upcoming match?”
But the Women’s World Cup official interviews all focus attention away from individual accomplishment: “Who is your inspiration?” “What legacy do you want to leave?” “Who is your most powerful opponent?” “Who is your greatest hero?”
And the answers that you hear, over and over, are self-deprecating. “I’m not just in it for myself, but for the women to come.” “We hope to add our little mark on history.” “I hope that there will be less distraction for future generations.” Considering the questions, it’s unsurprising that the responses of the athletes focus on the needs and goals of their fans, their teammates, and the future of the sport. But it’s still odd.
The theme of the 2019 Women’s World Cup was “Dare to Shine,” but are women really encouraged to bask in individual glory? Why not?
8. They’ve helped redefine the term “soccer mom.”
Mothers have been proving themselves as athletes since 1894, when Blanche Hillyard won Wimbledon three months after giving birth (the first of four mothers to take the Wimbledon title). But, until recently, most female professional athletes were pressured to retire when they became pregnant. Yet, times they are a changing…
The first female professional soccer player to have children mid-career was Joy Fawcett, who gave birth in 1994, and went on to play through ten years, two more pregnancies, and three World Cups. But the balance is hard—most professional female soccer players make between $6,842 and $37,800 per year (averaging on the low end of that spectrum), and parenthood is expensive, even with the unflagging support of spouses and the U.S. Soccer’s commitment to providing child care at training camp. In the last 20 years, the number of moms on the soccer field has continued to grow. Three moms contributed to the 2015 World Cup win, and soccer-star mom Jessica MacDonald dedicated her role in the 2019 win to her son.
Who knows what the next generation will bring?
9. Megan Rapinoe stole the show (and the statistics)
A sport that’s still emerging has a lot of records to break, and Megan Rapinoe seems to be going after them all.
Coming into the game she was already:
- a 2015 World Cup champion (the first women’s sports team victory to be honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City)
- famous for a brilliant assist that resulted in the latest goal ever scored in a World Cup match (resulting in an ESPY for Best Play of the Year).
- an Olympic gold medalist
- the only athlete ever to score an Olympic goal (kicked directly from the corner) in an Olympic game. (If you haven’t seen this video, look it up. It’s insane.)
- Possibly the only athlete to have a corn maze build in the shape of her face, and then be recognized for it by the President of the United States
In this game she became:
- the first player to score a penalty in a Women’s World Cup Final
- the oldest player to score in a Women’s World Cup Final
- the oldest woman to win a Golden Ball (best player)
- the oldest woman to win a Golden Boot (top scorer)
- the first player to start in three consecutive Women’s World Cup Finals
To be fair, the rest of the team helped.
- They scored the most goals in a single Women’s World Cup match (13 against Thailand)
- They won a match by the largest margin in FIFA history (men’s and women’s) when they defeated Thailand 13-0 in the opening match.
- Alex Morgan tied for the greatest number of goals scored in an individual match (a record set by American Michelle Akers in 1991)
- Jill Ellis became the first women’s coach to win two World Cup titles (a feat only achieved by her male counterpart Vittorio Pozzo in 1934 and 1938).
- They became the first team (male or female) to win 12 consecutive matches at a World Cup. (And they’ve been unbeaten in 17 games—14 wins and 3 draws)
- They accrued the most goals ever achieved by a team in a FIFA World Cup tournament (26).
- They became the only team (male or female) to reach the semifinals at every World Cup
- They became the only team (male or female) to reach the final in three consecutive World Cups.
10. They’re game changers
In the most literal sense. From Rapinoe’s elegant victory pose, to the conversations that the team is starting on and off the field, it’s clear that these women are changing the way that we think about professional sports. And not just the Americans. Amadine Henry did host France proud with the stunning opening goals of the tournament. Brazilian phenom Marta is the six-time FIFA women’s player of the year, five time World Cup participant, and only player (male or female) to score 17 World Cup goals overall and to score in 5 different World Cup tournaments. Sari van Veenendaal made incredible save after incredible save, more than earning the golden glove, even if she couldn’t completely stop the U.S.
These are women worth watching.
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