Why U.S. women’s football outshines their male counterparts

Despite having a strong international presence in many popular sports, the U.S. men’s national football team struggles every year to perform up to standards.

The farthest the United States made it in the FIFA World Cup was in 1930 when the U.S. team lost 6-1 in the semifinals against Argentina. In the 2002 World Cup, the United States managed to make it to the quarterfinals.

Outside of the two previously mentioned games, their team has never made it past the round of 16.

These statistics are in stark contrast to their female counterparts, who routinely dominate the FIFA Women’s World Cup and other international tournaments.

The U.S. women’s team’s impressive record

One of the most impressive records of any international football Team is that of the U.S. women’s team in the Women’s World Cup, where, up until 2023, they had come in either first, second, or third in every single tournament.

They also have four first-place finishes to their name, coming first in 1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019. They were also the runners-up of the 2011 Women’s World Cup. The only other country to have won multiple Women’s World Cups is Germany, having prevailed in 2003 and 2007.

In other tournaments, they have also done incredibly well. In addition to their World Cup wins, they also have four Olympic gold medals, and nine CONCACAF Gold Cups.

The only event other than the 2023 World Cup that the team did not receive a medal was the 2016 Olympics. In both tournaments, the U.S. lost to Sweden after a penalty shootout.

How the U.S. women’s team became so good

With the difference in play between the U.S. men’s team compared to the women’s team, it would seem as though the United States focuses much more heavily on their female teams.

However, the reality is much different from that. While in the States, both men’s and women’s sports are taken seriously, the same cannot historically be said in many countries worldwide.

In 1972, Title IX was passed in the U.S., which “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities”. This law also covered sports, including football. The number of female players in college rose dramatically with this law being passed, as much more funding was made available for it.

This is important for professional sports in the United States, as in the country, the main way to become a full-time athlete is by playing in youth and school programs, before playing in college and moving on to making it a career.

If we compare this with other countries, we see a major difference in how the sport was treated historically.

The development of women’s football was impacted drastically in the 1900s, as it was completely banned in many countries for most of the 20th century:

  • Belgium: A ban on women’s football lasted from the early 1920s through the late 1970s citing medical reasons.
  • Brazil: After major growth in women’s football, the sport was banned from 1940-1979, due to “medical reasons and a deterioration of social norms”.
  • Denmark: After winning the unofficial Women’s World Cup in 1971, The DFU (Danish Football Union) tried to stop the sport, as the DBU Chair Vilhelm Skousen declared a ban would be in place as long as he lived, saying “We cannot and will not take [women’s football] seriously.” The following year, after backlash from UEFA, the ban was lifted.
  • France: Stopped supporting women’s football in 1919, before fully banning the sport from 1933 to 1970.
  • Germany: A ban on women’s football was set in place in 1955 in West Germany. The German Football Association claimed, “In the fight for the ball, female grace disappears, body and soul are inevitably damaged, and the public parading of the body is offensive and indecent.”
  • Nigeria: In 1950, the British colonial administration banned the sport for women. The ban would last until October 1961, when the country gained its independence.
  • Norway: From 1931 to the late 1960s, no women’s teams were allowed to be established. The national women’s team wouldn’t be created until 1978.
  • Soviet Union: Women were banned from playing football from 1972 to 1990. The government stated that the sport posed health risks for women.
  • Spain: Women were barred from playing the sport from 1939 to the late 1970s.
  • United Kingdom: In Britain, women’s football was banned in 1921 to prevent profits from being taken away from the men’s leagues, as most of the money going towards women’s games went to charity rather than The Football Association. Scotland banned women’s football in 1902, and Wales followed suit in 1922. All three countries removed their bans in the early 1970’s.

The future of women’s football

The lack of funding and support for women’s football in many countries throughout the 20th century resulted in the United States being able to easily take the number one spot, as support for both men and women to play continued to grow.

Now that other countries are beginning to take women’s sports more seriously, it is only a matter of time before their women’s teams begin to catch up to the United States in ability.

The 2023 Women’s World Cup was the first in which the U.S. team did not make the top three. It will be interesting to see if this was a one-time event, or if it is the start of the end of their total dominance over the sport.

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