Today in France, one of the most important tournaments in female sports is getting underway.
The Women's World Cup.
The men's World Cup, which was held for the 21st time last summer, is the biggest sporting event on the planet (yep, even bigger than the Summer Olympics). The women's version may not be at that level yet. But when host France kicks off against South Korea, they'll be opening a tournament that is getting stronger every time its held.
Here are five reasons why we believe that the Women's World Cup is a must-watch event.
5. They get right back up!
One of the biggest complaints about soccer — even from fans — is this stuff.
The official term is simulation. You might know it as flopping or diving. Whatever you call it, there's a good reason people don't dig it. It's cheating to fake an injury! (Though it makes for a super funny GIF!) It is also something that studies show female players do half as much as male players. And even when women do go down, they get up 30 seconds faster on average than men do.
In women's soccer, the main reason the players hit the ground isn't to fake an injury. It's to celebrate an awesome goal.
4. Sam Kerr has Australia's biggest-selling soccer jersey
Players like Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. are the most popular athletes on Earth — and their soccer jerseys are big sellers. But in Australia, the most popular jersey by a native-born player belongs to Sam Kerr.
Kerr is a goal-scoring machine, plays in both the Australian W-League and North American NWSL, and has been ranked as one of the Top 3 women's players in the world for the past couple years. When you see plays (and celebrations) like this, you can understand why everyone wants to wear her number!
3. Canada has high hopes
When Canada hosted the seventh Women's World Cup in 2015, expectations for a first-ever victory were doused by a quarterfinal loss to England. In truth, that team was in an awkward spot — many of its best players were nearing the end of their careers, while their young players had lots of promise but little experience.
Four years later, players like Kadeisha Buchanan and Jessie Fleming are now wiser and stronger. They're joined by even more young talent, including dynamite strikers Jordyn Huitema and Janine Beckie. And then there's one of the greatest strikers ever, captain Christine Sinclair. In what could be her final World Cup, she needs just four goals to pass American Abby Wambach's international goal scoring record.
All in all, this is one of Canada's best women's teams. Which is good because...
2. The rest of the world is catching up
Of the seven previous Women's World Cups, America won three, Germany won two. A quick look at the FIFA ranking shows that the US and Germans are once again ranked 1 and 2 in the world. So yawn, nothing's changed right? Wrong.
From the stunningly elegant skill of France to the fierce determination of England to the whipsmart togetherness of Japan (one of the only other countries to be champs), this Women's World Cup is shaping up to be the closest ever. Take the Netherlands. In 2015, their national team reached their first-ever World Cup. This year? They're already ranked eighth in the world and their team boasts four of ESPN's Top 25 players in the world.
1. They fight for their rights (...and you can help!)
Around the world — and in sports other than soccer — female athletes have been fighting for decades to get the same respect men do. Sometimes, this fight brings real risk.
Norway's Ada Hegerberg won the Ballon d'Or last year as the world best player, but she's not going with her national teammates in France. Why? She quit her country's team in 2017 to protest the treatment of female soccer players in Norway compared to the men. Think about that for a second. Can you imagine a top men's player like Lionel Messi skipping the World Cup in protest of an issue?
But it's not all bad news. Part of the reason Hegerberg decided to protest is that she has seen an example of women being treated the same as men — at the French club she plays for, Olympique Lyonnais.
"Every day is a fight for equality," she told a journalist, "That’s a fact. We’ve made it here [at Olympique Lyonnais] because you’ve got one man at the top believing in us. But it’s still a long, long way to go, and you can see it in small examples every day."
Long story, short? Female athletes performing and being appreciated on the same level as men isn't that far-fetched. All it really takes is the proper support at all levels to grow the game.
Sounds like a great reason to watch some soccer!