Home World Cup offers ‘the highest level of talent and competition for women’s athletics’

World Cup offers ‘the highest level of talent and competition for women’s athletics’

Crystal Graham
soccer ball on field
Image courtesy Virginia Tech

Women’s soccer is already under way worldwide with the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicking off today. This is the first year that the women’s championship will be played in two countries – Australia and New Zealand.

The women’s competition has been held every four years since 1991.

An associate professor at Virginia Tech, Patrick Ridge studies soccer for a living.

In the United States, support for soccer appears to have the edge over other countries, according to Ridge, where the U.S. team looks to capture its third Cup with retiring standout Megan Rapinoe.

There is a lot to be excited about for this year’s tournament. It might feature the most competitive field in its history,” said Ridge. “Although the U.S. serves as a clear favorite to win its third straight World Cup, other participating squads have beaten the U.S. women’s team within the last year, including England, Germany, and Spain.

“The Spanish side features FC Barcelona standout Alexia Putellas, the winner of the FIFA Player of the Year, and Ballon d’Or in 2021 and 2022. Also to note, this World Cup will likely be the last for talents like Megan Rapinoe (USA) and Marta Vieira da Silva, known as Marta (Brazil), the latter arguably regarded as the greatest women’s player of all time.

In Latin America, Ridge said, soccer has historically been regarded as a man’s game.

“I am currently working on a book project that examines the masculinist myths of soccer in Argentina and Brazil,” said Ridge. “By myth, I refer not only to the cultural narratives that have idealized Argentine and Brazilian men’s soccer, but the oft-perceived notion that the game is reserved for men.

“I trace the origins of these misconceptions to the sportsmen that first played the game, the nationalist thinkers that adopted men’s soccer as the means for national representation, the medical and physical education experts that deemed the sport too -manly- for women, and the discourses of homophobia and sexism that have historically resonated throughout the stadium.”

One of the most egregious consequences of the adherence to these myths was the banning of women from soccer in Brazil from 1941-1979, Ridge said.

“Though legislation like Title IX has contributed to the growth of women’s soccer in the U.S. since the 1970s, a legacy of gender prejudice and inequality has most often sidelined women and girls playing in Latin America.”

Sports historian and Title XI expert Victoria Jackson writes that “no law has been more important to the global development of women’s soccer than Title IX.”

“It is important to note that while soccer is regarded as a man’s sport in much of Latin America, this designation has most often been linked with American football in the United States,” said Ridge. “The reluctance to support women’s soccer in other countries has not occurred as much in the U.S. Rather, thanks to Title IX, universities have invested heavily in sports like women’s soccer. This has contributed to a sporting infrastructure that has historically given the United States a leg up on foreign competition.”

Ridge said global sporting events like the Women’s World Cup offer greater visibility for women’s athletics.

“Part of my work deals with how men and women are represented in the media and cultural production. For example, coverage of soccer has typically showcased men’s soccer, while women and girls have been portrayed in conventional gender roles on the sidelines and often in ways that sexualize their bodies,” he said. “Their participation in the World Cup suggests that women can play the game too, but perhaps more importantly, it offers young girls figures that defy what patriarchal society has traditionally confined them to: wives, girlfriends, cheerleaders and others.

“The 2023 World Cup offers the highest level of talent and competition for women’s athletics,” Ridge said.

International competitions like the World Cup with national teams may help women in the long run in Latin America and other nations.

“In terms of gender, I’m optimistic that the growing presence of girls and women in soccer stadiums in Latin America and elsewhere might serve as indicator of a more equitable future on and off the field,” Ridge said.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.