Luciane Lauffer & Olga Trujillo
It was already predicted – scores and situations like the day before yesterday’s USA victory against Thailand in the Women’s World Cup would and will still take place during the first two weeks of this tournament.
The battle of the poor against the rich, the experienced against the novice are moments in which history and money count. Thailand ranks number 34 in the FIFA women’s ranking, which is actually a generous position in the 155 team list. This is Thailand’s second qualification for a world cup since Canada 2015 and the Chaba Kaew made history when they became the country´s first senior side of either gender to qualify for the World Cup.
But we have to get further back into history. The first women´s football tournament in which Thailand was able to participate was the 1975 women’s Asian Cup (only six teams played). They lost against New Zeland 3-1, but eight years later in 1983, Thailand won their first Asian title. And that was all. No more than four regional titles shine on their resume. Japan (mainly), China, North Korea and South Korea were able to develop their women´s football despite the difficulties, but Thailand saw everything from the bench.
It was not until a woman, Nualphan Lamsam, who was born on a healthy family, became the general director of the Thailand team, only ten years ago, that the Chaba Kaew resumed working on their progress. A new generation under new times for women and women’s sports would have the chance to represent their country by playing the game they loved.
The push from Nualphan Lamsam projected her to become their spokeswoman, but not without personal costs, by investing her own resources to see the Thailand women football players once again taking the field.
The scenery against the USA team was not optimistic, but it also wasn´t that bad. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Many of the players that confronted the champs, were almost the same that participated in Canada. They have Suchawadee Nildhamrong, who plays and studies at the California, Berkeley University (her father is from Thailand) and who was supposed to give some trouble – but that did not happen.
— DIOSAS OLÍMPICAS (@diosasolimpicas) 12 de junio de 2019
On the other side, there is the USA, a country privileged since the 1970s to a government determination called Title IX. Since then, women are entitled to equally participate in sports in schools and universities, which allow them to develop their skills from an early age. And we are not even considering the economic gap, which is certainly considerable. That explains most of the reasons for USA’s World Cup titles since the 1990’s. And we are not even considering the economic, sponsorship and other gaps, which are certainly considerable.
However, it has not all been roses along the USA women’s team way either. In 2016, they sued their Soccer Federation due to gender discrimination in pay against the men’s team. It’s a fairly recent battle even for a well-established, winning team, which continues to bring the theme ‘gender’ to the table. It seems to always be a problematic word.
Since the women’s world cup became a mediatic event, since Canada 2015, the media and spectators now expect women’s football to the same level as the men’s game but forget – or ignores – that women’s football has suffered enormously from bans, prejudice, and disinterest. The competition is still developing and so are many of the confederations and teams.
Thailand’s beautiful story of the fight to get back on track in the last decade not always has happy endings. The Chaba Kaew may be remembered as the team that was humiliated by the current title holders with a record 13-0 score. Even more: Telemundo reported that the USA vs Thailand match broadcast drew 486,000 viewers across all platforms, making it the most-watched U.S. women´s world cup group stage game in USA´s Spanish-language TV history.
It was not the first time nor will be the last that the huge gap existent in women’s teams from around the world is evidenced. So if we are all women who are fighting for better conditions, we are all together for the game. Not so much for the celebration of the difference, but for the equality of access and opportunities to make football an inclusive sport. If FIFA wants to raise the standard of the women soccer, it needs to repaint this scenery.