Newton’s first law states that every object will remain at rest or uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it. Where women’s football was once constrained, denied space and rendered powerless, it is now moving, rallying and accelerating all at once.
The forces that have set this trajectory in motion are multiple and complex.
Like hitting the sweet spot on the laces in unleashing a killer pass or unstoppable shot, Women’s football has succeeded in pushing past the tipping point.
While the Women’s World Cup was expected to break new ground and spur footballing change as a monumental turning point, no one could have quite anticipated the magnitude of the effect of the competition, especially right here in Asia.
Contributing 37.1 per cent of a ground-breaking 1.12 billion total audience across all touchpoints, Asia truly rose to the call of supporting the women’s game. The expansion of the participating teams from 24 to 32 allows more member associations a realistic target to qualify for. On the club level, the Asian Football Federation further confirmed a pilot competition for a 4-team event comprising the women’s club champions from Australia, China, South Korea and Japan.
Asia’s place in the narrative may revolve around these 4 teams at this point, driven by the success and standing of these more established and credible leagues, but they act as a point of reference for others to follow. Japan’s Nadeshiko league drew interest and established itself over a long period of time, during the 70s and mid-80s, now structuring its 3 divisions strategically to encourage a diverse pool of players, from teens to college students, to those with professional occupations. Through the many years of growth and consolidation, it serves as a common ground for the national team to be built around, and this success has earned the team the title “Queen of Asia”.
Off the field, a growing ecosystem made up of media, clubs, leagues, governing bodies, broadcasters, partners, brands and consumers are fuelling the appeal of women’s football. Although it’s fair to say, the European and North American markets are leading the way here. As Asian entities begin to recognise and act on the possibilities of women’s football, the result will be a ripple effect producing a wave that can turn the arc of history.
Examples to follow include the selling of women’s team shirts in men’s sizes, to LaLiga lending skills in communication and organization to women’s teams wishing to build their brand and broadcast offering.
In Asia, we see the most powerful global brands like Barcelona, Atlético Madrid and Manchester City consistently promoting their female teams on social media and even plastering local buses in the lead-up to games, or the introduction of female footballers in video game series. Replicating this in Asia can mean more to the women’s game than we currently understand.
Real Madrid is ready to get right out of the gate with its new team starting in 2020 and given the following the club already has in Asia, it will only increase exposure for the sport. Women’s football matches are now aired through broadcasters in Spain, England and more parts of the world than previously thought possible, and I predict that we will soon see a major new deal struck in my region.
Brands in Asia can increasingly add muscle to the movement, by being advocates in changing perception of the women’s game on multiple levels, including fuelling participation, amplifying athlete stories, and building sustainable foundations. Campaigns that focus on empowerment and acceptance influence future generations and demonstrate how the public can be a part of it. In doing so, this allows brands to showcase their beliefs and stance.
On a global scale there are many examples to follow. Visa – the biggest global sponsor of women’s football – spent as much marketing the women’s tournament as they did on the men’s World Cup. Nike lost out to Puma on the kit deal with Manchester United in part due to Puma’s eagerness to ‘truly engage women in sport’, and City demonstrated their one-club position via their joint pre-season tour.
Adidas redressed salary imbalance by awarding their sponsored female athletes the same performance bonuses as their male peers. Basque utilities firm Iberdrola is widely recognized not just as a sponsor of the women’s league in Spain, but a main driver of the competition.
We are living a moment of true football history. We are not only able to behold the brilliance of arguably two of the greatest footballers of all time, but also bear witness to the new dawn of the professionalism of women’s football.
On the day that Lionel Messi hit his 51st career hat-trick, earning him a standing ovation from opposing Real Betis fans in their home stadium, Spanish sports media outlets Diario AS and Marca chose instead to shine the spotlight on Liga Feminina Iberdrola, the women’s football league. On the covers of the two largest newspapers in Spain were stories of the historical record of 60,739 fans that attended a game between the female teams of Atlético Madrid against FC Barcelona, the biggest crowd ever to attend a women’s club match in the world.
Both on and off the pitch, women are increasingly taking their rightful place at the top of the game. It is only a matter of time before the trend reaches Asia, but the time has come to apply more energy to the cause.
While bans of women’s football still exist in certain countries, there are stronger opposing forces that have tipped the scales in the favour of the sport, such as Iran’s (albeit temporary) decision to overturn a ban that prevents Iran women from spectating football and other sports in stadiums, or Sudan’s first ever women’s club football league- a historical game for the country and for women’s sport.
Despite the odds, history books will show that women are beginning to realise their sporting dreams without the same restrictions. With the arrival of my daughter just last week, my heart is grateful that she arrives in a reality where she will have the headroom to dream and believe.
Sir Isaac Newton’s second law defines a force to be equal to the change in momentum with a change of time. The turning hands of time, coupled with the change in momentum spurred by the strengthening ecosystem, wide acceptance and public interest, has generated a force that will propel women’s football into the position it deserves to be. When my baby girl grows up and if she decides to take up football or any sport – she will and she can.