As we celebrate 50 years of Title IX this month, our team is reflecting on the impact this amendment has had on girls’ and women’s sports in our country and world. The law was meant to solve vast gender inequality and sex discrimination in education, but its impact on sports has been undeniable.
Our Goal Five team is made up of former high school, college, semi-professional, and professional athletes. Our company is grounded in a mission of “Equal Play,” which is closely tied with the language of this amendment. And without Title IX, the landscape of women’s soccer in our country today would look completely different.
According to an NCAA report for the 45th anniversary of Title IX, 58% of high school boys (about 4.5 million) were participating in sports in 2016 compared to 42% of girls (about 3.3 million). In 1972, the year Title IX was passed, only 7% of girls took part in high school sports.
Today, about 6.5% of high school female athletes will go on to a play college sport, compared to about 6% of high school male athletes. At the 2019 World Cup, 15 of the 24 teams playing had at least one current or former player who played U.S. collegiate soccer.
When Title IX was passed, it didn't all of a sudden make women’s sports equitable. For example, at Stanford, now known as a women’s basketball powerhouse, the first group of female players weren’t given real uniforms, their own locker room, or even a full schedule of games. However, the athletes continued to demand fair treatment and slowly things began to change.
After Title IX was passed, hundreds of thousands of girls began taking to the soccer field and the talent pool for high-level women’s soccer in the United States quickly began to grow.
The FIFA Women’s World Cup originated in 1986 (the men's first started in 1930) and was first hosted in the People’s Republic of China in November 1991. With the help of college superstar, Mia Hamm, the United States beat out Norway to win the championship title 2-1. The first Olympic tournament for women’s soccer was then held in 1996 in Atlanta. It was here the USWNT won gold against China 2-1 in front of 76,000 spectators.
In 1999, the Americans faced China in the World Cup final once again, held this time in the Pasadena Rose Bowl stadium in front of 90,000 spectators and 18 million live TV viewers. After a hard fought match, Brandi Chastain sealed the USWNT’s victory in penalties. You can probably picture that iconic image of her tearing her shirt off immediately after the winning shot in celebration!
Since then, the women’s team has proven themselves to be the most successful team in international women's soccer history, winning four Women's World Cup titles (1991, 1999, 2015, and 2019), four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, and 2012), and eight CONCACAF Gold Cups. The 2019 Women’s World Cup broke records with a combined 1.12 billion viewers tuning into the official broadcast. The final match drew an average live audience of 82.18 million and reached a total of 263.62 million unique viewers.
Of course, Title IX was not the cure-all for sex-based discrimination in schools and sports. Funding and opportunity increases did little to solve old, offensive stereotypes about female athletes that were already baked into society and opportunities were far from equal. Players who competed in the first World Cup in 1991 have since shared their experience staying in hotel rooms where the toilets didn’t work, eating spoiled food, and playing back to back games with little rest.
Although progress has been made since then, the U.S. women’s national team of today refuses to settle for “better than it was.” After years of fighting for what they deserve, a landmark deal was finally reached in May of this year, equalizing World Cup prize money for the women’s national team.
As Donna de Varona, an Olympic swimming champion and Chair of the Organising Committee for the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, explained at the Equal Playing Field Summit in 2019:
“The link between the sports opportunities available and success in later life couldn’t be clearer, and is a powerful indicator of how an effective policy can have an impact on culture, society, the workforce and ultimately the economy as a whole. Title IX released the potential of half of the American population, not only on the field of play, but in all walks of life.”
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