The Time is Now: 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup is coming to an end, with the final set to unfold on Sunday. The season’s premier sporting event officially kicked off on July 20, and while it’s been a chance to celebrate the love of the game, it’s also been a time to highlight recognition, respect and equality for the competing athletes. With the tournament exceeding expectations across both host countries – Australia and New Zealand – the WWC has not only captivated audiences all around the world but smashed records too. The Matildas vs. Lionesses semi-final recorded a viewership of 11.15 million on Australian television alone, becoming the nation’s most watched television program since 2001.
So many milestones on the pitch have been made too. South Africa became the first African team to win a game at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup, and Germany saw an upset with their earliest ever exit from the competition during the group stages. Despite having to navigate early issues around their coach, training environments and the federation as a whole, Spain has succeeded in reaching the World Cup final. England, steered by one of the greatest coaches in women’s football history, Sarina Wiegman, has secured its spot in its first ever WWC final. The team will be coming in strong considering England hasn’t lost a single match in the tournament.
This WWC has seen an unprecedented shift in the perception of women in sport and has inspired generations, making greater representation a reality. As the tournament’s end draws closer, ticket sales are estimated to hit 1.98 million sold across the 64 matches. But with the 2023 FIFA WWC prize money estimated at $110 million, just a quarter of what was on offer at the men’s 2022 FIFA World Cup ($440 million), there’s no denying there’s a long way to go. It’s a time for change – and the time is now.
In the press conference following the Matildas’ semi-final showdown with England, Tillies’ team captain Sam Kerr once again raised the topic of funding for women’s football. Kerr said, ‘I can only speak for the Matildas but, you know, we need funding in our development, we need funding in our grassroots. We need funding, you know, we need funding everywhere... comparison to other sports isn't really good enough and hopefully this tournament kind of changes that because that's the legacy you leave, not what you do on the pitch.’
Further to Kerr’s point, hopefully the changes seen from the WWC will play a part in combating the wider issue of the gender pay gap in professional sport. The Matildas have long been vocal on this issue, having shared a crucial message on this just three days out from the Women’s World Cup, which also served as a reminder for how much work they’ve put in, and how much more there is to go.
In the Matildas’ message, they shared, ‘Collective bargaining has allowed us to ensure we now get the same conditions as the Socceroos, with one exception – FIFA will still only offer women one quarter as much prize money as men for the same achievement. And our sisters in the A-league Women’s are still pushing for football to be a full-time career, so that they don’t have to work part-time jobs like we had to.’
As the Matildas state, their goal is to leave their jersey in a better place than when they found it, and a part of this is to get the same revenue percentage as their male counterparts. The call-out goes beyond Aussie soil, they’re also calling for change for other national teams who face the same level of unfairness.
England is also among the top teams with the biggest inequity. The men’s national team has an average team salary of $13,456,420, with the women’s team at $532,959. Of course, England isn't the only country with a shocking gender pay gap, with countries such as Argentina and Australia not trailing far behind.
Not only do women’s sports experience inequality and disparity on several levels, the lack of representation for women’s athletes is extremely prevalent. In the lead-up to the 2023 FIFA WWC, an advertisement challenging the ‘perception’ of women’s football circulated. After displaying some impressive on-pitch action including diving headers and epic free kicks, the viewers are then presented with a message: ‘Only Les Bleus can give us these emotions. But that’s not them you’ve just seen.’ As the ad proceeds on, the footage is then rewound to reveal the editing process behind the visual effects that were applied to the footage. You weren’t actually watching Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann, you were actually watching Sakina Karchaoui and Selma Bacha. It’s a shame that an ad like this is needed to portray women’s football athletes with the reverence they deserve, but in due course, hopefully this ad will serve as a reminder of how hard women had to fight for what was rightfully theirs all along.
Acknowledging a facet of the ongoing issues that are representation and equality, Nike and Martine Rose presented the next phase of their project, which aims to shift the narrative and rewrite history through the art of collaboration. While ushering in a new era of women’s football, Rose curated a collection featuring a player’s suit jacket, trousers, trench, shirt and accessories, along with the latest iteration of the Martine Rose x Nike Shox MR4 mules. While the collection is gender-free, the aim was to spark a turning point in women’s sport and its fashion.
The same way that men’s athletes have long been given the means to flex off the court and off the pitch, women have historically not had the same means to do so, whether through provision, apparel or attention. But the time is now – for change. The United States Women’s National Team debuted the new range when they arrived at their first match of the 2023 FIFA WWC. ‘Wearing this suit to walk out on the field feels like the culmination of my whole career – to elevate the women’s team look, to show something unexpected, and to continue to push boundaries in what it means to be an elite female athlete,’ says four-time USWNT player Megan Rapinoe. ‘It’s also just fun to be able to show up rocking something that’s unique and popping. And to have one of the best designers in the world create for the best team in the world is incredible.’
As women’s athletes continue to inspire the generations of today and tomorrow, break records and shift the outdated worldview of women’s sport, we have to do our part: show up, keep the energy and tune in. The time is now.