I Believe that She Will Win

The American Outlaws, the raucous unofficial fan group for the United States national soccer teams, did not have too much to say during this year’s FIFA World Cup. As the US Men’s National Team watched the World Cup from home after failing to qualify, this overwhelmingly underwhelming team had nothing to do but spectate their female counterparts steamroll through their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament. Further, the US Women’s National Team has had drastically more success than that of the men in recent years, prompting many sports pundits to question why the women’s soccer team have managed to accomplish so much, while the men’s team has yet to sniff their first World Cup win or Olympic gold medal.  

There are a myriad of reasons as to why men have woefully underachieved in their respective field. Some may point to recruitment issues; because the current market for American soccer is less lucrative than that of basketball or football, the best American male athletes may end up playing a different sport in hopes of attaining a strong payday. Also, rigorous youth development for soccer begins in powerhouses such as Spain and Germany by the age of seven. This early onset of training puts other countries at an advantage compared the United States, where the majority of players do not begin training until they are 10 or 11 years of age.

While it’s true that men can find heftier paychecks elsewhere and start their training later than the top soccer countries in the world, these issues have not seemed to overlap into the female sphere. In fact, the women’s national team has reached unprecedented levels of success. One critical factor that seems to correlate to positive results in the women’s World Cup may be gender equality and the lack thereof in some countries.

The US Women’s National Team has had a great deal of success in recent years with the help of Title IX’s implementation; the federal law prohibits sex-based discrimination in education programs that are federally funded. This applies to both public and private schools, some of which receive these federal funds. Since Title IX’s inception in 1978, women’s soccer participation has skyrocketed. The number of participants in high school girls soccer was at a few tens of thousands in the late 70’s, and current involvement has risen to about 375,000 females. This number still trails the amount of girls in basketball and volleyball, but soccer is the only sport with participation rates trending upwards and may very well overtake these sports soon.

Though the United States has been very successful at encouraging its women and girls to play soccer, the converse is also true: other countries have been shockingly bad at pursuing gender equality in athletics. FIFA statistics determined that only 12% of all youth soccer players worldwide are girls, and over half of that percentage are girls from the United States. Many of the top international soccer training academies are actually exclusively male due to the fact that they do not heavily prioritize the development of prospective female players. Because gender inequality is still alive in so many other countries, women are not receiving the proper training or treatment. Nevertheless, the United States should be commended for catapulting themselves into one of the international benchmarks for women’s rights in both soccer and economic opportunities.

While the soccer system in America is not perfect, with issues such as the current gender gap in salaries or scholarships remaining polarizing topics of conversation, American women have capitalized in this capitalist market and should be recognized for their unprecedented streak of triumphs.

Sources: Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight, NBC News