It’s been a nice little break from writing on the blog here: always have to take some time to refresh after a school year is over. Now that July is upon us I’m back, and it’s time to talk about one of the most unbelievable performances I’ve ever seen on a soccer field. I’m talking about the US Women’s victory over Japan in the World Cup.
It’s not a secret that our Women’s Soccer Team has been one of the best teams in the world for a long time. While it used to be a very small field of competitive teams back when the Women dominated in the 90s, the scope is much more fierce now, with teams like Germany, Japan, Brazil, and England all fielding title challengers. The field was also recently expanded from 16 to 24 in this year’s event, another great sign. The reasons for this of course are both increased funding for women’s programs across the world as well as improving TV ratings for the event. The causes of both of those phenomena are not to be overlooked, because they signal a victory for both our country and specifically the American school system. Title IX legislation has been in place for 43 years now, and we are continuing to reap the fruits of that labor.
If you’re not aware, Title IX grants equal opportunity by law to women in education and sports. To oversimplify it: for every men’s athletic team there must be a women’s athletic team at a public school or university. While funding gaps do still exist with amenities and such, the truth is that the United States is a world leader in gender equality in athletics, if only because it’s mandated by law and completely ignoring the outstanding accomplishments of our women on the athletic fields. Since Title IX’s inception, female participation as increased 545 percent at the college level and over 1000 percent at the high school level nationwide. Focusing on Soccer for a moment: the United States have won the Women’s World Cup three times, the most of any nation. Comparisons to the men’s team are unfair, mainly because the country as a whole started late on what is truly the world’s game, but it does prove an emphatic point that as global leaders of the sport for one gender we’ve won three world cup championships, and as followers for the other gender we’ve earned none.
But there’s more about soccer that is not apparent to the average observer that must be underlined. First of all, unlike many sports, the rules of the game for men and women in soccer are identical. Unlike every other major sport, there are no differences between the men’s and women’s game. The effects of this are apparent when you watch the way the teams play on the field. In this year’s rematch of the last World Cup Final, Japan’s tiki-taka style reminds you of the $1B value of Barcelona FC. The Americans’ defensive and steely approach reminds you of this year’s English Premier League winners Chelsea. The point is these women are not playing their own game: they’re playing the game that everybody already loves, and when it comes to gender equality, that fact is crucially important and something our school systems directly address. They may not receive the same resources in many college-level programs, but women’s teams are treated the same way, celebrated the same way, and coached the same way as our men’s teams. Our schools make an effort to celebrate female athletes and the dividends are apparent on the world stage.
Perhaps most apparent is, once you understand that Soccer is identical for men and women, the level of pure skill displayed by the american team this past sunday was awe-inspiring. I’ve grown up playing and watching soccer: the third and the fourth goal scored by the american team are goals that the men’s team would simply be unable to do. Lauren Holliday’s volley looked simple, but it only looked that way because her technique in taking it was flawless. Carli Lloyyd’s performance resembled that of the legendary Diego Maradona, but her goal from half field is not only the greatest goal in women’s soccer history, but it surely lands in the top 5 goals every scored by any human. Her half-field lob was not an accident – and the fact that she executed it well enough to complete her hat trick was a feat I’m not sure anyone on the Men’s team will ever match. These two goals demonstrated that not only are women being encouraged legally and socially on the athletic field, but the time spent training and honing their skills are paying off in big ways for the United States.
Our country’s gender gap with professional sports is still pronounced, and personally I watch more men’s sports because they’re generally at a higher level of play than the women, or the rules of the women’s game make it more boring or tame. Soccer is different though, and if we proved anything last night, it’s that our women might simply be better players than our men. I’d love to see the women’s professional soccer league get a real boost, because the MLS is decidedly poor quality, but who knows what will happen there. What I know is that last night’s world cup win over Japan started 43 years ago with landmark legislation forcing gender equality on our athletic field. That legislation was targeted at the place it knew where it could take a real foothold: America’s schools. That’s why it wasn’t just a victory for the players on the field yesterday, but a celebration of everyone involved in the athletic training of our outstanding female athletes.