High stakes, high attendance . . .
The world’s largest sporting event of the year starts today. With 1.3 million tickets sold, the Women’s World Cup 2019 is half a million tickets ahead of this year’s Cricket World Cup – with teams from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and New Zealand among the two dozen converging in France to compete for the top title in women’s soccer. While no Asia Pacific team is a clear favourite this year, the stakes are still high: Japan’s surprise win in 2011 boosted attendance at its women’s domestic games by five to ten times, and the quadrennial event’s viewership numbers continue to grow.
Battling to win, on and off the pitch
The players are also working double duty in many ways as they are also ambassadors for under-represented populations in sport. Australian Captain Sam Kerr continues an inter-generational push against racism towards both her and her Indo-Australian soccer playing father. And her teammate, goalkeeper Lydia Williams, has been vocal about tapping into her Indigenous Australian heritage to encourage younger Indigenous Australians to play – especially needed at a time when they make up just two per cent of league players. The theme of representation, and the fight to achieve it, crosses borders and oceans: South Korea’s Jang Selgi speaks of playing well to increase perceptions of women’s “pride and professionalism” back home, and Thailand general manager Nualphan Lamsam mentions having to self-fund her country’s women’s team.
Closing pay gap remains the sport’s biggest goal
Regardless of which team takes home the trophy, another coveted win still eludes most players. While this is the first World Cup where New Zealand’s women’s team (ranked 19th internationally) will be receiving the same pay and business class travel as the men’s team (ranked 119th) when playing internationally, most other Asia Pacific players won’t be able to say the same. Australia’s players union is preparing to take FIFA to court over equal pay for women; Japan typically pays men’s teams 50 times more prize money than women’s squads; and, Alibaba founder Jack Ma’s promise to invest in China’s women’s team appears to have fizzled out, leaving them with fewer funds than the men’s. Four years on from Canada hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and the next goal for the sport is shaping up to be equal treatment for the millions of players taking home less for doing more.