The French women’s national soccer team made a statement last Friday when it opened the FIFA Women’s World Cup competition on its home turf by defeating South Korea 4-0. But the U.S. team made an even bigger splash in France on Tuesday with its devastating and record-breaking 13-0 drubbing of Thailand. But despite the domination of such teams on the global scale, women’s soccer faces controversy both in the United States and around the world.
The Women’s World Cup, the most prestigious competition in women’s soccer, has occurred every four years since 1991, when China hosted the inaugural 12-team event. Since then, the tournament has grown to include 24 teams from around the globe. This year it runs through July 7.
The U.S. team is the top-ranked squad in the world, besting its male counterparts, who are ranked the 24th globally. But the men tend to get much more attention—and much more money for their efforts. Forbes reported that the overall prize pool for the Men’s World Cup was $400 million when it was last played in 2018, compared to only $30 million for the women. The winning men’s team received $38 million compared to just $4 million for the women’s champions.
The U.S. women’s team, while it competes in France, is embroiled in a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, the official governing body for soccer in the United States, for “institutionalized gender discrimination.” Norwegian Ada Hegerberg, widely regarded as the best women’s player in the world, is sitting out the World Cup to protest the general disregard for women’s soccer in her home country.
But while U.S. and Norwegian players try to gain more respect, there are many countries around the world where women players have no standing whatsoever. While Saudi Arabia has sent a team to the Men’s World Cup since 1957, it and other Islamic countries like Brunei and Oman, still do not have a women’s team. Brazil, perhaps the most soccer-crazed nation in the world, had a law preventing women from playing soccer—even at school or for fun—until 1979. But Brazilian women have caught up: Marta Vieira da Silva became the country’s first player, male or female, to score goals in five different World Cup competitions on Thursday.
Despite the U.S. women’s team’s great success on the world stage, some soccer fans find it somewhat difficult to embrace a team and players that overtly support the LGBT movement. Last year, Jaelene Hinkle, a professing Christian, was cut from the national team after she declined to play a game the previous year because she objected to wearing a jersey designed to celebrate LGBT Pride Month.
This year’s team features another unabashed Christian player: Julie Ertz, a starting defender and wife of Zach Ertz of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Ertz speaks publicly about her faith often. “I try to really be in tune with the Word and continue my growth,” she said in an interview with Sports Spectrum earlier this month. “When I do, I’m a better athlete on the field. I’ve shifted my perspective so that when I go out, I go out to glorify Him.”
At their best, sports are another way for people to glorify God through their passions and talents. That doesn’t change from men to women—both can use the gifts they’ve been given to the best of their abilities.