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What FIFA World Cup rankings tell us about women's status

What FIFA World Cup rankings tell us about women's status

Posted by PanamericanWorld on June 22, 2015

It's no coincidence that the top five countries in international women's soccer also happen to be great places to grow up as a girl, says one economics professor.

"Really, how well a [women's] team performs on the field tells you a lot about how well their women perform in all sorts of other areas and their economy," said Victor Matheson, who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts and is a former international women's soccer referee.

"The same things that make teams good at men's soccer are the same things that make teams good at women's soccer," said Matheson, who cites the size of the population and the country's wealth as two examples. "But if you see a difference arise, there must be something special about that economy, something that makes them different."

Gaps in Latin America, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia

Matheson says Egypt, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have long traditions of being strong competitors in the men's World Cup, but were among the last countries to start women's teams.

In Latin American countries, Matheson said the gap between men's and women's international soccer performance could owe to lack of opportunity for girls in sport. 

"[There are] much fewer options to play when you're a five-year-old girl versus a five-year-old boy. Of course, 20 years later, those 25-year-old women haven't had those years of practice behind them like they have when you grow up in Norway, in Germany, in the United States or Canada."

Still not a level playing field

Matheson said, these differences aside, it's often still not a level playing field for women no matter where they're from.

"You would never have seen a men's tournament played on artificial turf," he said, referring a controversy surrounding the current FIFA Women's World Cup.

"One of the great tragedies of this: FIFA sitting on a billion dollars and can't find a few million to put in the same sort of surface they would have the men play on," he said.

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