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Women's Soccer Gains a Global Foothold

As the action kicks off across Canada, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup is firmly established as an international showcase for the skill, technique and passion for women’s soccer, which has experienced unprecedented growth over the past 20-plus years.

It’s a far cry from 1991, when FIFA first experimented with an international women’s soccer tournament – a 12-team event held in China. Now, crowds of more than 900,000 are expected to fill venues throughout Canada to watch the world’s 24 best women’s soccer teams battle for global supremacy.

“We believe Canada 2015 will be a landmark moment for women’s football,” a FIFA spokesperson said in a statement.

But as important as the FIFA Women’s World Cup is for stars like Brazil’s Marta, France’s Louisa Necib, Canada’s Christine Sinclair and the United States’ Alex Morgan, there is also a distinct trickle-down effect for women’s soccer players around the world. 

According to FIFA, more than 30 million girls and women play soccer, and the organization hopes to increase than number to 45 million by 2019 thanks to more than 640 development projects and 400 activities in more than 120 countries. Paramount to those efforts is the Live Your Goals campaign, a global program that aims to strengthen the image of women’s football and increase the number of girls and women participating in the game.

Through Live Your Goals, FIFA promotes female role models and star players who share their stories of overcoming obstacles to achieve their goals, and in 2013-14, more than 45,000 girls and young women were involved in those programs worldwide.

In the U.S., the tipping point for the growth of women’s soccer can be directly traced to both the 1994 FIFA World Cup and 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, in which some of the game’s greatest stars – including Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain – captured the championship in dramatic fashion on home turf.

Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan, who is featured in a Coca-Cola campaign for the FIFA Women's World Cup, with two young fans 

According to the NCAA, the number of women’s collegiate teams has increased by 115 percent since 1994 and below that, youth leagues have ballooned with players.

“The popularity of women’s soccer has been an interesting beast in the last quarter of a century, from World Cups in the early- to mid-1990s that drew very little attention to live, national broadcasts this summer of games between nations like Ecuador and Cameroon,” says longtime soccer journalist and current St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Chris Gove. “There’s more room to grow for women’s soccer than the men’s game, of course, but you’d have to say the national reaction is fairly similar to the World Cup this summer to last year.”

As a longstanding supporter of women's soccer, from grassroots leagues up through the pros, Coca-Cola has witnessed the growth of the sport in recent years. The company was the presenting sponsor of the first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour, which wrapped up a 12-city Canadian tour in Vancouver just before the start of the tournament.   “As a company, we have always believed in the power and popularity of women’s football. We are proud to see how the game has continued to grow and that we have been part of that journey," said Amber Steele, director of football management, Coca-Cola. "We have seen firsthand through our various initiatives in women’s football how the game has impacted and touched countless women around the world, from our involvement in grassroots programs like Copa Coca-Cola all the way through to our top-tier involvement and sponsorship of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.”

Nozomi FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour

Retired Japanese player Nozomi Yamago at the first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola

The U.S. is considered one of the favorites at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but Gove says that a less-dominant American squad makes for “a more compelling event,” something that even some of the U.S. players echo.

“It’s hard to say (who is the team to beat),” USA striker Abby Wambach said during a FIFA interview. “We went down to Brazil and their team is very dynamic and dangerous. I like the chances of Germany, I like the chances of Japan and Sweden doing well and getting far in the tournament. It’s going to be really hard. There are so many great teams, that on any given day, anybody can win.”

After the celebration is over and a champion is crowned, the work will continue in order to make women’s soccer more than a quadrennial occasion. Gove believes the groundwork is there for that to happen.

“It’s a big world out there, and women’s soccer has a toehold,” he said. “The sport’s players aren’t getting rich by and large, but if the players can continue to have a place to play professionally at the best level possible, and that level continues to get better, then I’d say a lot of progress has been made.”