OPINION | The Women’s World Cup was a great success in many ways, but the work isn’t done | CBC sports

It's fair to say that the FIFA Women's World Cup was one amazing success.

It was filled with group drama, misfit cheers and moments that will go down in history forever. Some teams shared stories of joy, others suffered from disappointment. There was tears and heartache, and there was success and great football. And there was drama on and off the pitch.

Canada's early exit from the Women's World Cup meant I returned home from Australia after the group stage, but watched and reported for the rest of the tournament. I got up in the early hours to watch the round of 16, then the quarterfinals, semifinals and final. Along with the rest of the world, I've witnessed new teams making headlines, famous players making unexpected departures, co-hosts Australia boosting and, perhaps most importantly, discussions off the pitch.

The reality is that while football is beautiful and this tournament was breathtaking, electrifying and addictive, some of the most important work doesn't get done with the ball. It is done next to it.

Some of the most pressing issues came during the trophy presentation to Spain, who gave the world a majestic game and outplayed England to win the league.

The Spain women's national team was not the focus of attention just because of their performances Tiki Taka Passing style. They were embroiled in a dispute with the federation, which backed head coach Jorge Vilda despite allegations of his toxic leadership style and control of the team so tight it affected their health.

A letter from the team to Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), resulted in some veteran players being dropped from the squad and creating tension that was obvious to viewers of the tournament. Vilda was booed by the fans at the final, while the players received loud, supportive cheers. Spain won this trophy in spite of Vilda, not because of him.

Much to the dismay of many onlookers, Rubiales grabbed Spanish player Jenni Hermoso on the podium and aggressively kissed her on the mouth. The gesture drew widespread criticism from the media in Spain and around the world. Many called for his release. It was disgusting and inappropriate and he has since apologized.

The most exciting thing about last year's Men's World Cup was when the Emir of Qatar placed Leo Messi on his shoulders as a cultural mark of respect. I can't imagine a male player's face being grabbed and kissed by the head of a federation. First Hermoso specified that she “didn't like it,” but later said it was a “natural gesture of affection.”

Spain's victory at the World Cup means all eyes are on the federation and the team. While it feels heavy and change is not inevitable, the joy of players and the people who will inspire them is heartening. While soccer is a very popular sport in parts of the world, it is male dominated. So many countries, including in Europe, still have a long way to go to create space for women.

Of course, there are women-led movements and initiatives that seek conversations about justice, anti-racism, and countering oppression.

Throughout the tournament there were panels, symposia, discussions and activations led by women and community organizations. My friend Assmah Helal is the COO of create opportunitiesa non-profit organization in Australia that organizes and governs festival 23an event that brought together young leaders from around the world in the field of community engagement and football.

Two women pose in front of a poster.
CBC Sports Shireen Ahmed, right, with Assmah Helal from Festival 23. (Shireen Ahmed/CBC Sports)

I went to the Sydney Academy of Sport and Recreation where Festival 23 was held. It was wonderful to see people from so many different communities coming together out of a love of sport and a willingness and determination to use sport for positive impact through sport diplomacy. Helal has been directly involved in the growth of football in Australia and is an advocate of the sport for a marginalized community. She's one of those unsung heroes we don't hear about.

Speaking of heroes: I took part in a panel discussion The Wheeler Center on equality in football alongside legendary Australian players Julie Dolan and Emma Checker, brilliant author Fiona Crawford and sports ambassador Azmeena Hussain. It was an incredible experience listening to their stories and sharing our information and resources. It's part of how the sport grows and how we strengthen the community.

There was a summit hosted by the NWSL's Angel City Football Club. Of course, FIFA President Gianni Infantico took the opportunity to be condescending in his remarks at a women's conference, encouraging us to ‘pick the right battles'.

Totally losing touch with women in football is Infantino's specialty, but that was ridiculous. He was immediately ridiculed and criticized by thousands, including former Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hederberg of Norway. But I expect men in football will continue to talk and unfortunately the FIFA President is no exception.

On a positive note, Malala Yusufzai had one of the most incredible performances coming to support the Afghan women's team, which has not been recognized by FIFA but is used selectively by FIFA (her kit is in the FIFA Women's Football Museum). Malala was there to support a team that survived trauma despite fantastic support Melbourne victory football club, are largely ignored by senior management at FIFA.

A petition was circulated and has collected more than 167,000 signatures. The need for these women to be recognized and play in peace with support is vital to the football landscape.

There are so many problems including same salarySupporting survivors of abuse and LGBTIQ rights in sport and there are bright spots.

There are women who are still brutally banned from the field, such as hijab-wearing women in France, and despite the success we've seen, there's a way to preserve those joys, but continue change, growth and the to encourage change for the better.

We can celebrate victories by creating more opportunities for girls and women in football. We can be optimistic and relentless in our commitment to making a positive contribution to the football ecosystem. If this Women's World Cup has taught us anything, it is that there is room for growth, and with that growth comes joy and opportunity. The key is to continue to support women's football at all levels – professional and collegiate – and to support existing leagues and the prospect of new leagues.

One of the main goals was to increase support for women's football on a global scale and to inspire nations, and that has happened and is still happening; There is more attention to women's football.

The tournament may be over, but the growth of women's football continues. We are very lucky to be a part of it.

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