As we’re all so gripped by the excitement of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, it only makes sense to have a look at how this tournament became possible. Despite only having been running officially since 1991, the beginnings of the event predate that quite considerably. We’ll take a look at the pioneering countries that wanted to put women’s football on the map, as well as the early attempts at creating a World Cup that would rival the men’s and, of course, the people who were integral to the success of the competition.
The Modern Day
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We’re going to start with some of the highlights from recent years, as well as some people to look out for this year. Australia’s Sam Kerr is always one of the women to watch at the World Cup and has been captaining the Australian team since 2019. It was during this year when she had a most memorable moment, in which she told her critics to ‘suck on that one’ after her team scored an incredible goal to come back swinging. This year we’ve already seen an incredible 8 – 0 defeat of Norway from England, a team who’ve yet to win a World Cup. It might just be that this year is their chance to take home that title, but bookmakers still have Spain or the USA as favourites, owing to both teams’ incredible records.
The Ban on Women’s Football
If you’re in your forties or younger, then you might not even be able to imagine a time when women’s football could be banned, but it seriously was the case. One of the main reasons for the lack of a women’s world cup was that in many countries, playing football as a woman was outlawed. Thankfully, in the early 1970s, many countries lifted their bans on women’s football, which naturally lead to the formation of plenty of new teams.
First World Cup AttemptsCaption: The women’s world cup drew enormous crowds even in its first year
The first-ever attempt at a Women’s World Cup was in 1970 and took place in Italy. It was organised by the Federation of Independent European Female Football and despite its title, only teams from seven countries took part; England, West Germany, Denmark, Mexico, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. 40,000 people attended the Stadio Comunale in Torino to watch the final between the hosts Italy and Denmark. Despite enormous support for the Italian side, they were no match for Denmark who won 2 – 0 and took home the trophy.
The following year it was Mexico’s turn to host another world cup. This one too was organised by the Federation of Independent European Female Football and matches were spread throughout Mexico and Guadalajara. Just six teams competed in this instalment and yet again Denmark took home the trophy, this time though, in front of a huge crowd of 110,000. It was clear at this point that women’s football had an enormous following and something had to be done to increase how seriously people were taking the sport.
The first two tournaments in the 1970s were enough to kickstart more interest in women’s football, but they wouldn’t be repeated for a while. Instead, a handful of continental competitions were held, including several in Asia in 1975 and in Europe in 1984. Meanwhile, for four years during the early 1980s, Italy had been holding the Mundialito for women with great success. Seeing the success of the Mundialito, Ellenn Wille called for FIFA to make an effort in promoting the women’s game. Her call was answered in 1988 when FIFA created a tournament in China, in which twelve national teams took part.
The First World Cup
After seeing the popularity of the Chinese competition, FIFA agreed that a women’s world cup would be held, every four years, falling the year after the men’s. The first took place in 1991 in China and was won by the United States, proving they’re masters of both American football and ‘soccer’. The US team have had a formidable record ever since and look to be a strong contender for the title in this year’s cup.