Football: Empowering Women, Uplifting a Nation

by Tamara A. 

First of all, no.  I am not talking about American football.  I have no idea how American football could empower women, although it does bring a renewed energy to our country for 17 weeks of the year (21 weeks if you include preseason…although this year may be a little different).  I’m talking about the International football…the football that has fanatics in just about every country of the world and is, without a doubt, the most popular sport globally.  Soccer.

The 2011 World Cup championsI have to admit that before this World Cup that just ended in the brutal upset by Japan over the US, I had never really paid attention to women’s professional soccer.  Even though I played soccer for several years when I was younger, it wasn’t a sport that I took much interest in following until I spent some time abroad and really began to understand the level of devotion that people hold to this sport.  It’s incredible.  The intense emotion that goes into watching a game, following a team, and maintaining strong rivalries is close to making people clinically insane.  And while I am not near that intensity, I have definitely begun to hold a new respect and interest for this international phenomenon.

One reason that I respect the sport is because of the equality between men’s and women’s play.  I don’t mean to say that watching a women’s game is the same as watching a men’s game, because it’s not.  The dynamics are different because of strength and style of play.  However, the rules and playing field are the same for both.  This hardly ever happens in athletics today.  Rules are altered; the ball is bigger; the game is expected to be “nicer”.  But not in soccer.  The field is just as large, as are the goals, and all of the rules remain the same.  It is a nice parity that is not there in the majority of other sports.

Also, I don’t know if it was solely due to my lack of attention before, but this Women’s World Cup received so much media hype.  It was refreshing to see a women’s event take over a lot of the sports programming for a few weeks.  (I am a fan of ESPN and Sports Center and I had never seen women show up so often in their listed topics.)  Especially when it came down to the tournament portion, I felt enveloped by the coverage for the competition.  And really, every game was exciting to watch be it USA vs. Brazil, Japan vs. Germany, Sweden vs. France, or the final victory of Japan vs. USA.  Overall, this tournament was a great display of women, their athleticism, and the entertainment that they can bring.

However, I feel that the main emphasis of this World Cup was the unity and the strength of the Japanese team.  Consider everything that their country has been through since the beginning of 2011.  With all of the death, destruction and problems that they have seen in the past 6 months, these women had the entire world pulling for them.  In their home country, they were referred to as “Nadeshiko” meaning beautiful flower in Japanese.  And they really were.  As a fairly small team, they battled the best in the world (Germany, Sweden, USA) and defeated each one with steady determination.  Nearly all of their goals were in the second half or overtime.  That is incredible patience.

I watched the final match at a bar with several friends around.  We all were cheering and cringing in unison as the game was played.  After the third penalty kick made by Japan sealing their victory, I literally wanted to cry.  (I don’t know if it’s good to be that invested in a game or not.)  But really, I couldn’t think of another team that was more deserving to win than Japan.  Their strength and perseverance was unparalleled.  Those ladies and that country deserve something to cheer for.

Go Japan! Go women!

Some information and the photo taken from Benjamin Gottleib’s July 17th article, “Women’s soccer a ‘beautiful flower’ post-disaster Japan” on CNN.com.