There’s no denying that 2019 has been a great year for women’s sport.
From Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s stand-out performance at the Doha World Athletics Championships (which saw her claim a heptathlon gold for the first time), to Simone Biles’ historic performance at the Gymnastics World Championships, it’s been a seriously inspiring year.
But, undeniably one of 2019’s greatest moments for women’s sport had to be the Women’s World Cup, which saw England’s Lionesses make their way to France to compete on the world stage. After fighting their way through to the tournament’s semi-final, the team lost at the final hurdle against the USA’s star-studded team – but continued to inspire hundreds of girls and women up and down the country.
But now, for the first time, we know exactly how big the impact of the Women’s World Cup was: and it’s safe to say it absolutely smashed expectations.
According to a new report released by FIFA detailing the global audience for 2019’s tournament, a combined 1.12 billion viewers watched official broadcast coverage of the Women’s World Cup 2019 – a record breaking number for the competition. At the last tournament in Canada in 2015, 764 million people watched: that’s an increase in audience numbers of 30% in just four years.
There’s no denying that it’s great to see the appetite for women’s football growing, but there are a few problems which still overshadow the talent displayed in women’s sport, number one being the amount of money involved.
For the 2019 Women’s World Cup, FIFA doubled the total prize money awarded from $15m to $30m (£24m). While this is, obviously, great, it’s less cheer-inducing when you look at those figures in comparison to the men’s tournament, which awarded an incredible $400m (£308m) in prize money for the 2018 competition.
And while it’s fair to highlight that the men’s World Cup continues to attract a bigger audience than the women (the 2018 tournament had more than 3.5 billion viewers), the amount of prize money on offer for each competition is far from being proportional to the number of people watching. If that were true, the women’s tournament should be offering over $100m in prize money – but that just isn’t happening yet.
The payment of players is also an ongoing issue. In the US, the USWNT are currently in the middle of a lawsuit against the US Soccer federation for failing to pay them equal to the mens team, despite the fact that, in the three years after the U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2015 World Cup, U.S. women’s games generated more total revenue than U.S. men’s games. They also happened to have won more games and played more games than the mens team in recent years: and that makes it even more shocking that the players report earning a meagre 38% of the wage of a player on the mens team.
The latest figures are a reminder that the appetite for women’s football continues to grow – just last week, England’s Lionesses sold out Wembley for the first time, with 90,000 fans buying tickets to watch the team play against Germany. The current audience record for any women’s game in England is 80,203, set at the final of the London 2012 Olympics when the USA beat Japan.
Both professionally and on an amateur level, women are playing football on a rapidly increasing level. In June 2019 the FA reported that 2.6 million women across the UK said they played football, which is the highest figure ever recorded.
And with 605 new girls youth teams registered to play matches this season opposed to the previous one, there’s plenty of hope for the future of women’s football – and that is something to celebrate.