International Women's Day: Women's football rise in popularity
2022 was a massive year for women's football, with record-breaking transfers, attendances, and global television viewing figures at an all-time high.
With International Women's Day on March 8th approaching quickly, it's an excellent opportunity to take a moment to celebrate the progression of the women's game over the last 20 years.
In 1970 Denmark won the first unofficial World Cup for women in Italy. It was only in 1991 that FIFA officially took over the tournament's organisation.
The sport has grown internationally, helped massively by the USA being such a dominating presence globally and putting their top players in the public eye. By the time France hosted the tournament's last edition in 2019, interest was at an all-time high, and over 1.12 billion people tuned in to watch the final between the USA and the Netherlands. The final was the most watched live game ever, with 82 million viewers.
The progress could reach new heights this summer when the World Cup is held in Australia and New Zealand for the first time.
In the UK, the Lionesses' success at Euro 2022 boosted interest even more, and they are one of the favourites to win Down Under. Serena Wiegman, FIFA's Women's Coach of the Year 21/22, has guided the team to greatness.
"I think, obviously, off the back of the Euros, people have put in them as the favourites. And for me, I think they are the team to beat," revealed Emma Sanders, BBC Online journalist.
"They haven't lost a single game under manager Serena Wiegman since she came in at the end of 2021. So an absolutely incredible record. But you obviously can't write off the USA. They've won the last two World Cups, and they've got a massive rivalry with England. They played each other at Wembley at the end of last year, and that was a close encounter. But England came out on top."
Nadia Nadim is one of football's most iconic female players. Nadia was born in Afghanistan and fled to Scandinavia as a child during the conflict. She credits Denmark for educating her and went on to represent her adopted country at the international level of the sport.
She's now an ambassador for UNESCO's girl's and women's education and believes that sport can play a crucial part in the right to schooling for women worldwide.
"I think education and football are almost the same things because they're both tools for you to achieve your goals or even fight yourself out of a situation." - Nadia Nadim.
"I hate the fact that there are so many girls around the world who don't have that opportunity to have that access to school. It's heartbreaking. Even in the country, I was born in, you don't have that right now. I'll try to do anything in my power to try and somehow change it."
Interest in the transfer window is famous the world over.
In January 2023, Arsenal made a world-record transfer fee bid for Manchester United star Alessi Russo. United held firm and preferred to keep hold of their star player and refused the money.
In 2022 Keira Walsh moved from Manchester City to Barcelona for a world-record €400,000 fee. In comparison, the first £1 million men's transfer was way back in 1979. We're a way off that amount at this point in the women's game, but as players improve and become more familiar household names, the values attached to transfers in the future will only go up. We could see a break in the £1 million barrier over the next 12 months.
In the middle-east, the women's game is showing signs of progression, too. In 2023, Saudi Arabia hosted the region's very first 11-a-side women's tournament. Football in the region is gaining popularity, especially after the signing of global icon Cristiano Ronaldo to Al-Nassr.
"It's a huge step. Football, in general, is a growing sport, and especially in Saudi Arabia at the moment, the country is developing at such a rapid pace," explained Yousef
These events will inspire them so much in women's football. The Middle East, in general, and all the Arab countries, they love football. They dream of this. The sport means so much to them. So for the women's game to develop more and more around this region is very important."
Interest in the game is set to reach an all-time high at this year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, with high hopes the tournament will inspire more young girls around the world to pursue their dreams of being the next Lucy Bronze, Alexia Putellas or Alessia Russo. Exciting times are ahead in 2023 and women's football.