This weekend draws the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It has been a gut wrenching journey of both triumph and heartache. A victor will soon be crowned and the cup will find its way either returning to Japan with the reigning champions, or back into the waiting arms of the Americans who have longed to be reunited for sixteen years. But despite the fact that only one team will emerge triumphant over the lot of 24, this World Cup has already boasted some pretty incredible victories for the game and the women playing it.
The 2015 WWC has been a tournament of first for several nations. Seven different teams have made their Women’s World Cup debut; Spain, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Cameroon, Ecuador, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. Switzerland and Cameroon advancing out of their group to compete in the elimination round of 16. Though none of the newcomers advanced beyond the round of 16, the expansion of the tournament from 16 teams in 2011 to 24 in 2015 has diversified the competition. In the future these additional teams are likely to shake up the group stage brackets, dismantling a common complaint that the Women’s competition is too predictable, and making the entire tournament more legitimate. That sounds like a win to me.
Other World Cup victories can be seen off the pitch this year. Even during group stage, very early in the tournament, television ratings began to set records. The 2015 WWC has drawn in more viewers than any women’s tournament in history and the two biggest matches have yet to be played. FOX Sports reported that the audience for the USA-Germany semifinal match peaked at over 12 million, making USAvGER the most watched semifinal match, male or female, of all time in the US.
Though global television ratings for the Women’s Cup have not caught up with the numbers posted by the men’s tournament, the gap is narrowing. The rating prove that viewer perspective is changing, and the negative stigma that has stifled growth of women’s athletics is at the very least headed in the right direction. That alone is a huge win for the beautiful game and all athletes, male or female, that play it.