Women’s football is “poised for exponential growth” according to the president of US Soccer, as the reigning World Cup champions warmed up for their tilt at a third straight title by beating Wales 2-0 in San Jose on Sunday.
After a club season of record-breaking attendances and transfer fees, the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is set to be another showcase of a game on the rise.
While women’s football has long had a foothold in the States, Cindy Parlow Cone says it is now gaining traction globally and will be transformed in the coming years.
“Before the women’s game was largely viewed as almost like a charity, it was just a feel-good thing to do to invest in the women’s game,” she told Sky Sports in an exclusive interview.
“I think what we’ve seen over here in the US for a long time, and now a lot of other countries and federations and clubs are catching on to is that it makes really good business sense to invest in the women’s side of the game.
“We’re seeing sponsors committing more to women’s sports, media and broadcasters investing more in their coverage.
“We’re seeing more fans in the stands and all this progress is fantastic and we’ll continue to push that.
“You know, I think this is just the beginning. I think the men’s game is going to continue to grow, but the women’s game now is at a point where it is poised for exponential growth.”
The value of the women’s game has been in focus this week, with England’s players in a dispute with the FA over performance-related bonuses at the upcoming World Cup.
Parlow Cone has been a key figure in the area of pay for women’s footballers – she negotiated the ground-breaking collective-bargaining agreements for the US teams, which made the US the first country to achieve gender equality on pay.
The earnings of both the men’s and women’s teams go into one pot and are then fairly divided between the two.
While not drawn to comment on the England case directly, she underlined the difficulty of securing equal pay but also the need for continued progress.
“We’ve seen the impact of a number of other federations taking steps to either get to equal pay or move towards it and FIFA recently just took steps in the right direction with the evolution of a portion of the prize money is guaranteed to the players,” she said, with players set to earn 60 per cent more from FIFA at this World Cup than the previous one.
“There still is a lot more to be done and we’ll continue to work with FIFA and any federations that reach out to us to see how we did it. We’re happy to help. But I also think it’s important to note that each federation can take steps towards equal pay or towards equal investment.
“Not every federation can maybe reach equal pay like we have done. It took us a long time to get where we are. I think forward progress is really important. So whether that’s starting youth teams or investing more in your women’s team or improving or increasing the number or amount of programming from the girls and the women’s side. Or it could be closing the gap in pay between the men’s and the women’s team or the closing the gap with their programming.”
USA go into World Cup elevated by experience
USA go into the tournament as favourites, just ahead of England, with a historic third World Cup win in a row in their sights. That has never been achieved in the men’s or women’s game before.
Speaking ahead of the win over Wales, Parlow Cone – who won the title with USA in 1999 – said there was genuine optimism around the USA camp that their quality and experience could see them triumph again.
“The excitement level is pretty high,” she said. “I think the players and the staff are excited to just get to New Zealand so they can get settled in and really get to work on preparation for the Women’s World Cup.
“As far as the women’s team and their ability to win the third star in a row and fifth overall, I have faith, I believe. I’m looking forward to watching this team over the next few weeks and their evolution and growth as a team because you need that in order to be able to win a World Cup.
“I think [their experience] is really important. You do all the preparation that you can and you make sure everything is in place as much as possible for the World Cup, but if it’s your first World Cup, you really don’t know what to expect. You can think you know but you don’t really know until you get there.
“And so to have that experience of many of the players on the team have played in a World Cup, some multiple World Cups, I think is going to be really valuable to the team and helping the players in their first World Cup, trying to help them through that process.”
‘Rapinoe will continue to do great things’
One of those experienced players is Megan Rapinoe, who announced she would be retiring from the sport at the end of the 2023 NWSL season.
With two World Cups, an Olympic gold medal and 199 caps for her country to her name, Rapinoe’s status as an all-time great in US football is assured, regardless of what happens in Australia and New Zealand. But the forward has also made headlines for her impact off the pitch, speaking out around societal issues.
Parlow Cone expects Rapinoe to continue to be an influential figure even after she hangs up her boots.
“I think we are all sad to hear the announcement but in the same breath, just so thankful for all that Megan has done both on and off the pitch,” said Parlow Cone. “Her impact has been felt by so many people here in the US as well as around the world.
“Both the impact that she’s had on the field and off the field. I know personally she’s pushed me to be a better person, a better leader. I know she’s done that and similar things for other people.
“We’re definitely going to miss Megan but I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard from Megan.
“She’s going to go on to continue to do great things, even if it isn’t between the white lines.”
A USA win at the World Cup would be some way to sign off on the international stage.
When and where is the 2023 Women’s World Cup?
This year’s tournament will be held in Australia and New Zealand making it the first-ever co-hosted Women’s World Cup.
The tournament starts on July 20 with the final taking place on August 20 in Sydney at the Accor Stadium.
The USA are the defending champions and are looking to become the first team in the competition’s history to win the tournament three times in a row.