A View from France: Will the WPS help to grow the game in France and beyond?”
Guest Post: “A View from France: Will the WPS help to grow the game in France and beyond?”
Background on the women’s game in France
Women’s soccer is starting to get more recognition and exposure in France. Currently, the French league has twelve teams. There are teams, like Lyon, that are comprised of professional players. Unlike the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league in the United States, the French league has yet to field all teams with professional players.
These days, you can turn on the television and watch games featuring the France Women’s National Team (FWNT). If you are a fan of women’s league 1, it is not a problem. You are more than likely to catch a game online and television. More and more people enjoy watching women’s games and share a belief that women’s soccer can be much more technical than men’s soccer.
Perception of women’s soccer in France
Consider a survey taken of spectators after France’s World Cup victory in 1998. Half of women surveyed stated soccer is their favorite sport. 2.5 million knew about women’s soccer, including teams, players, and regulations. Two thirds of them would watch games at least twice a month (1).
What is disheartening to me, as a fan, is that even if soccer is their favorite sport, girls cannot freely admit their passion and love for the game. They find it difficult to say out loud “Hey I’m playing soccer!” Why is this so? Despite tremendous progress made in women’s soccer, there are still some people who view soccer as a sport only for men. It is difficult to change people’s minds.
Laure Boulleau, a defender on FWNT said, “Men see women playing soccer like if they were guys, but we can be as feminine as the others girls.” Bérangère Sapowitz, a goalkeeper, dismissed critics of women’s soccer and said, “I’ve played since I was a little girl. For me, it’s normal to play with a soccer ball” (2).
Across the Atlantic, soccer remains the most popular sport for young women in the United States. It is not a taboo to play and talk about soccer. Camille Abily, another FWNT player, that once played for the San Francisco-based FC Gold Pride, noted that in the U.S, little girls play soccer with little boys as if it was the most natural thing to do (3).
French players who played in the WPS had to step up their game so they could compete physically. Are American players physically stronger than foreign players? Or perhaps, there are better soccer programs to help train athletes? Keep in mind that French teenagers have school from 8am to 6pm and have only three hours of sports. If French girls want to train and play soccer, they have to do it in their free time. Since they do not receive much training in school, they make most of their training by focusing on their technical skills. Yes, these girls love the sport and they are painfully aware how the sport is perceived in society. It takes a great deal of passion and courage for them to struggle and pursue opportunities to play professional soccer.
Many French players, like Sonia Bompastor, took opportunities to play pro soccer in the United States for a couple of years. Bompastor, a former Freedom player and current FWNT member, said, “…The biggest difference is women’s soccer is more recognized than in France. It’s like night and day, the best players in the world play for the WPS, so it’s a huge challenge” (4).
The impact of US women’s soccer on women’s soccer worldwide
From an outside perspective, the American collegiate athletics system and the national team are responsible for the rise of women’s pro soccer leagues in the US like the WUSA and the WPS. The institution and the national team have helped foster growth of the game in the country. Moreover, these leagues invite talented players from around the world to come play. It is possible for women to play professional soccer, and the best players in the world, such as Marta, Christine Sinclair, and many French WNT players, found such opportunity in the United States. The game quality of the WPS and the national team, for example, is also recognized and respected by fans not only in the United States but around the world. You see fans like me inquiring about pro teams in the US over social media and watching games online.
While football, basketball, and baseball continue to thrive in the US, men’s soccer tries to become an established sport here. In the meantime, women’s soccer is becoming more known and acceptable as sport for women in the US. The fight for stability of the Women’s Professional Soccer league rages on. As the prospect of not seeing WPS teams this season has sunken in for players and fans, the dream of playing professional soccer at the highest level in the United States and elsewhere has not diminished. We can only hope that a professional league in the US will work hard to maintain a top-notch standard for professional soccer everywhere.
I talked to Ash, a semi pro player from England, about women’s soccer WPS. She told me that she admire American players greatly for their talents. When I asked what she would do if she had the chance to play in the WPS, she responded that she would leave England, her family, and her current club for such an opportunity to play in the best league in the world. When she heard about the cancellation of 2012 WPS season, she was disappointed, but hoped the hiatus will help strengthen the league and help grow the game in the US and beyond its borders. It was the promise of playing in a professional league along side with talented players that compel Ash and soccer players to follow the news of WPS and USWNT closely.
Women’s soccer will always encounter bumps whether it is in France, in the US, or Saudi Arabia. If the WPS and US national team can find a way to maintain a professional soccer league for a couple of years, then it still can serve as a spark and a standard for women’s pro soccer in France and elsewhere.
Yasu is a teacher from France. She discovered her passion for the game at a young age. One of memorable moments for her is when she studied abroad in the US and had an opportunity to play in varsity soccer alongside with girls.