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Women’s Sport is on the Rise – and FIFA Women’s World Cup Will Play a Part

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Team Canada captain Christine Sinclair (12) celebrates a goal by midfielder Jessie Fleming (17) with teammates Allysha Chapman (2) and Sophie Schmidt (13) during the first half of a women's international soccer friendly against Mexico at BMO field in Toronto, Saturday, May 18, 2019. Photo: Cole Burston/CP

By David Owen |

A good month for women’s sport just got a little better.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) decided on Sunday at its spring Council meeting in Cavtat-Dubrovnik to update its terminology.

According to the summary of decisions on the governing body’s website, a proposal to “change the terminology used by FIS” in the English language from the dated, presumptuous and mildly judgmental “ladies” to “women” is to be implemented “forthwith”.

Good; such issues may seem trivial to some, but, as we wordsmiths know better than most, language shapes attitudes.

Of course, it might have looked even better if one of the stories under the “Read this next” rubric when I visited the website had not been titled, “We are thrilled to present our ladies to the world!” But, hey, small steps, right?

Of course, the main thing that will make June a landmark month for women’s sport is the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

This will kick off on Friday night (June 7), when host nation France take on South Korea at Parc des Princes, just up the road from Roland Garros, where the French Open tennis championships will conclude on Sunday (June 9).

The event is well-established now, having debuted in 1991 in China, but with interest in the women’s game spiralling, this eighth edition is set to break all records for viewership and fan engagement across the world, I would think by a considerable margin.

It looks an open competition, but my hunch is that this time the hosts, Les Bleues, will finally fulfil their potential under knowledgeable manager Corinne Diacre and lift the trophy.

This would make France the first nation simultaneously to be both men’s and women’s world champions of the planet’s biggest sport.

The pressure will be intense, though, and the best they have managed so far is fourth in 2011.

Three-time winners the United States will start the defence of their title next Tuesday against Thailand in the Champagne country of Reims.

In Canada four years ago, they beat Japan 5-2 in a game described afterwards by FIFA as “the most-watched football match in American history” with 25.4 million viewers in the US.

So promising do prospects look for women’s football that you might have thought FIFA, under just re-elected President Gianni Infantino, would be making the women’s game their out-and-out growth priority.

After all, while revenues associated with the Women’s World Cup are a fraction of those accruing from its men’s counterpart, there seems no reason why, over time, viewership, and hence income-generating potential, should not rise much closer to the $5 billion-plus (£4 billion/€4.5 billion) hauled in by the World Cup itself – and FIFA desperately needs to diversify its one-trick-pony business model.

Over the 2015-18 business cycle, no less than 83 per cent of FIFA’s $6.42 billion (£5 billion/€5.7 billion) of revenue was attributed directly to Russia 2018.

That would take patience, however – one of the few commodities that is in desperately short supply in the modern football industry.

Instead, Infantino and Co seem to be prioritising raising FIFA’s exposure to the highly lucrative European men’s club game, notably via an expanded Club World Cup, starting in 2021.

You can understand why: whereas FIFA’s top-line growth in the, er, eventful four-year cycle culminating with Russia 2018 was less than 20 per cent, UEFA’s expansion over a similar period was three times as great.

All told, the European body – whose club competitions, headed by the Champions League make up a vastly important portion of its portfolio – lifted aggregate revenue from €7.6 billion ($8.6 billion/£6.7 billion) in 2011-2014 to €12.3 billion ($13.9 billion/£10.9 billion) in 2015-2018. That is equivalent to cycle-on-cycle growth of nearly 62 per cent.

In revenue terms, UEFA, Infantino’s former employer, is now well over double FIFA’s size.

With the performance of more traditional activities such as sponsorship and ticketing/hospitality subdued, the area of its activities from which FIFA appears to have driven the most impressive growth in 2015-2018 was actually esports.

No matter: between Friday night and July 7, when the final will take place in Lyon, the Women’s World Cup will provide women’s sport with the sort of sustained global platform that many men’s sports can only dream of.

It promises to spark a new participation surge and to attract new sponsors to give women’s football a try.

There is something fitting, moreover, about this new stimulus being applied in France.

Ninety-nine years ago, in 1920, the original annus mirabilis for the women’s game, it was a French tour that drummed up the interest which led to a crowd of 53,000 showing up for a match in Liverpool – a record for a women’s club fixture that was broken only this year.

The name of that pioneering touring team may be appreciated by any remaining traditionalists at FIS: Dick, Kerr Ladies FC.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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