Welcome to the final instalment of this summer edition of the Impact newsletter, dedicated to feminism and football in celebration of the 2023 World Cup. Today, editor Megan Clement reflects on the last four weeks of footballing glory, and the fight for gender equality that went with it.
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First things first: enormous congratulations to Spain, the glorious winners of the best World Cup in history after beating England 1-0. As an England fan, you broke my heart. As a football fan, you astonished me and millions of others with your class and your determination to win.
Congratulations to Golden Ball winner Aitana Bonmati, the astonishing Spanish talent who took home the trophy for the competition’s best player, and to Golden Boot winner Hinata Miyazawa from Japan, surely the most entertaining player of the tournament, for scoring the most goals. Congratulations to the indefatigable and occasionally terrifying English goalkeeper, Mary Earps, for winning the Golden Glove and thank you for your campaign to make keepers’ shirts available for women and girls to buy.
No congratulations to the creepy president of the Spanish football federation, Luis Rubiales, who forcibly kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the winners’ ceremony after the match. Nobody likes you, Luis. And no congratulations to the Spanish coach Jorge Vilda, whose management style led to a revolt among the players, many of whom chose to stay home rather than play in a World Cup under his leadership. This was a triumph for the Spanish players who protested against what the New York Times described as an “oppressive workplace environment” under Vilda and Rubiales, not a victory for them.
The glory belongs to the players who lifted the trophy yesterday in Sydney, but also to those who made the sacrifice of missing out on the victory of a lifetime to advocate for better conditions for women footballers. Spain won despite, not because of, their circumstances. Feminists everywhere can surely relate.
I have had the time of my life watching this competition and editing this newsletter over the past month. Ok, as an English-Australian person living in France, it was more than a little stressful when Les Bleues and the Matildas played the longest penalty shootout in World Cup history and I had to change shirts every time a new player stepped up to the spot. And it was certainly a lot when the eventual victors of that shootout, Australia, went on to play England in the semi-final and lost (sorry Mum). I have cried a lot. But what is the World Cup if not an opportunity to celebrate our multiple and complex identities?
So here’s to the best World Cup ever, despite the struggles and despite the patriarchy.
Here’s to the Matildas, not only the team with the most queer players in the competition, but one that inspired 11 million Australians – nearly half the population of the entire country – to watch the semi-final, the largest audience for anything on Australian TV ever. Here’s to South Africa, for fighting for better conditions and for their spine-tingling team singalongs.
Here’s to Morocco’s Atlas Lionesses, who in their first ever World Cup made it to the round of 16 at the expense of former champions Germany, and whose celebrations will remain on my highlights reel forever. And here’s to Nouhaila Benzina, the first Muslim woman to wear a hijab at a World Cup, including in a game against France, a country where the veil is banned in official competitions. Here’s to Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz for crowdfunding their way to Australia and out of the group stages despite the odds. Here’s to Nigeria’s overachiever Michelle Alozie, who trains in the morning for the Houston Dash and works in a cancer hospital in the afternoons when she’s not representing her country. Oh, and she gave us the best meme of the whole tournament with her reaction to being fouled by England’s Lauren James.
Here’s to the retiring great Megan Rapinoe, for leaving behind a legacy of equal pay for the US men’s and women’s teams, for her solidarity with the trans community, and of course, for pissing off Donald Trump. Here’s to the icon Marta from Brazil, who never had a footballing idol growing up and so became the GOAT to inspire the next generation and is leaving the game better than she found it. Here’s to France’s all-time champion, Wendie Renard, who led a campaign to change the management at Les Bleues, and then took her team to the quarter finals at her last World Cup (again, let’s not talk about those penalties). Merci pour tout, Wendie. Here’s to the Afghan team, who are not recognised by FIFA, but who are fighting for the rights of all Afghan women from exile. Get it together, FIFA, and support these players! Here’s to England’s Sarina Wiegman, one of the most successful international coaches in history despite yesterday’s loss, and here’s to the Lionesses for making my childhood dream come true by taking England to a World Cup final for the first time since 1966. Nine-year-old Megan Clement would never believe how far we’ve come.
Here’s to the fans – from those who’ve loved football forever to those who watched it for the first time this year. Here’s to anyone who has ever felt excluded from the beautiful game because of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia or ableism. Never forget that football is for all of us. (And never forget that the patriarchy is lying to us about how complicated the offside rule is.)
Most of all, here’s to every player who blazed a trail for women and girls in football where none existed before, taking the game to new heights and campaigning for equality at the same time.
Thank you to everyone who came on this wild ride with me over the past four weeks, especially those who got in touch via email or social media with your thoughts about football and feminism. Thank you to our star contributors, Beatrice Go and Esther Owusua Appiah-Fei and our expert interviewee Katrine Okholm Kryger. And a big thank you to my colleagues Rebecca Amsellem, Anna Pujol-Mazzini and Agustina Ordoqui for your collaboration and support (and for watching the games with me!)
That’s it from me this summer – I’ll be taking a break over the next few weeks to recover from all this football fever. The Impact newsletter will be back in your inboxes on September 18th. Vive le foot, vive le féminisme, et vive les vacances.