England played their most important women’s game for years on Wednesday, although you would have hardly noticed. Mark Simpson’s side needed a result against Colombia – arguably the surprise package of the 2015 Women’s World Cup – to make sure of their place in the tournament’s quarter-finals, and yet hardly a ripple was felt in the United Kingdom: the supposed hottest of football hotbeds. Even with the European season on its summer break, the women’s game still can’t find mainstream coverage.
But while England’s decisive final group game was broadcast back home on some TV backwater (live coverage was bumped to the soon-to-be online only channel BBC Three, with a DIY show instead shown on BBC One), the match was taken elsewhere as something much more significant. In fact, the Women’s World Cup – which is predicted to set a new attendance record of 1.25 million – is seemingly a big deal everywhere but the UK.
Nowhere is that felt more than the United States – where the success of the women’s national team is regarded with just as much gravity as the men’s side. Unlike in the UK, primetime broadcasters are concentrating on the Women’s World Cup, with interest nearly as high as it was for Jürgen Klinsmann’s team at last summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Traffic to the Guardian’s minute-by-minute reports reflects this equality too – there were twice as many readers in the US for the women’s team’s victory over Australia this month than there was for the men’s team win over world champions Germany.
And it’s not just in North America that the Women’s World Cup is considered a truly marquee event. Colombia has taken a contingent of thousands to Canada, with northern European nations like Germany, Sweden and Norway also boasting strong support for the tournament, both at home and on the ground. Even in France – a country which hasn’t always embraced the women’s game – best-selling sports newspaper L’Equipe splashed the national team’s 5-0 thumping of Mexico on the front page last week.
“In Sweden, the tabloid newspapers and TV stations have had extensive coverage of the Women’s World Cup,” explains Sven Bertil Liljegren, a journalist with Swedish broadcaster TV4. “In fact, for TV4 one of their best ratings ever was when the women’s national team played in the World Cup final [in 2003].”