A new dawn: could the FIFA Women’s World Cup revolutionise women’s sport?

Following the record-breaking success of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Vision considers the legacy it might leave for women’s sport in terms of both events and participation

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup may prove a watershed in how female-centric sporting events are hosted around the world. The level of goodwill and positivity that has emerged from Canada’s staging of the seventh edition of the international tournament, supported by record-breaking viewing figures, has demonstrated the increasing worldwide appetite for women’s sport. It is now up to sporting administrators to capitalise on the legacy of Canada as they look to future events.

But what was is it that made the tournament so successful? The FIFA Women’s World Cup has been growing steadily, if not dramatically, since the 1999 final in California drew in a record crowd of 90,000. But while that match, contested by the United States and Japan, disappointed in that it featured no goals, the 2015 final between the same countries saw Carli Lloyd inspire the USA to a 5-2 victory with a thrilling 13-minute hat-trick. It was an occasion befitting of an event that had been expanded to include 24 teams (eight more than in the last four tournaments), had been planned, promoted and delivered to an exceptional standard by FIFA, the Canadian Soccer Association and the National Organising Committee, and, for the first time was played out across an entire month.

It is now up to sporting administrators to capitalise on the legacy of Canada as they look to future events

The heroics of Lloyd and her colleagues captured the imagination in the United States, and the public welcomed back the three-time World Cup winners with a ticker-tape parade. The final was the most-watched soccer match in US history, with an average audience of 25.4 million viewers – a seven-million increase on the highest figure recorded when the men’s side reached the final 16 in the World Cup a year earlier. Viewing records were also broken in Japan, with 11.6 million people tuning in to watch the final.

The fact that the United States and Japan represent vital broadcasting markets was a significant boost for the tournament’s profile, but stories resonated in other parts of the world too. Host Canada had a successful run to the quarter-finals, and Europe was well represented in the semi-finals by Germany and England, whose ‘Lionesses’ did their bit for women’s participation back in the UK. “At the elite end of the game we've got excellent role models for young girls,” says Polly Fildes, Women's Football National Project Officer for the Football Association.

The organisation is already seeking to capitalise on the positive exposure, launching a new campaign called ‘We Can Play’ that has the ambitious twin aims of changing preconceptions that football is a sport for boys, and making women’s football the second most popular team sport in Britain (behind men’s football) by 2018.

‘At the elite end of the game we've got excellent role models for young girls’ 

Polly Fildes , Women's Football National Project Officer, the FA

Gender equality efforts go hand-in-hand with a bid to make women’s sporting events bigger and better, and the example can also be seen within the Olympic Movement. At London 2012 the staging of women’s boxing meant that for the first time women were able to compete in every sport on the Olympic programme, while female athletes accounted for 49 per cent of the competitors at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, illustrating the gradual increase in opportunity and participation for women in sport.

It is difficult to quantify the effect that inspirational stories from women’s tournaments has on participation, but the public interest and financial revenue that Canada generated can only be a positive development. Future host cities must look to that example and emphasise the link between elite and grassroots women’s sport, in order to increase quality, interest and participation at all levels.