Despite women’s soccer success, girls struggle

Playing like a girl

girls struggle

Photo: Vegeir Kjærstad / Støtt Norsk Kvinnefotball,
The text on the jersey translates as “Real men watch women’s football.” The slogan was made by Vegeir Kjærstad of Støtt Norsk Kvinnefotball (Support Norwegian women’s football) “to give men who watch women’s soccer some pride and to increase interest for women’s soccer.”

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Around the world, football, or soccer as it’s called in the United States (see box), is among the oldest and most widespread of women’s team sports. More than 170 national women’s football teams are now or recently have been active, including the Norwegian one, from the mid-1970s on. Today, in Norway, in terms of numbers of participants, football is the leading competitive sport for girls and women, with 110,000 players, one in 25 female residents of the country.

The Norwegian women’s national team just finished playing in the World Cup in France; as of this writing they had reached the quarterfinals. [Editor’s note: Norway lost its quarterfinal match against England.] There were enthusiastic crowds and media attention. They are one of seven teams to play in all seven World Cups since 1991, have twice won the European Championships (1987 and 1995), won the World Cup (1995), and won Olympic gold (beating the United States in 2000 in Sydney, Australia).

Despite that progress, in Norway, as in other countries, women’s quest for equality in society has a counterpart in the traditionally male-dominated sport of football. The Norwegian and American women’s teams are fighting for equal pay with the men’s teams. The Norwegian men’s team has offered support. Fittingly, the cover story of the June 7 edition of A-Magasinet, the Aftenposten weekly magazine supplement, was entitled “Jentekampen” (Girls struggle), an overview of women’s football in Norway, and how young girls are being subjected to social media harassment for playing soccer.

girls struggle

Photo: Aftenposten Archives
Norwegian women and girls were introduced to soccer at Frøkenball (Miss Football), four demonstration games on June 16, 1928, at Frogner Stadium in Oslo. This is a facsimile from a newspaper article in Aftenposten. The original caption: “The four captains and center forwards, from left, Helga Heidenreich, Signe Aars-Johansen, Berit Sverre and Sonja Henie.”

Through the years, there have been efforts to assist that struggle. The most famous was Frøkenball (Miss Football), four demonstration games played to promote women’s football on June 16, 1928, at Frogner Stadium in Oslo. The star of the day was the captain of one of the teams, Sonja Henie, who as a figure skater in February that year in St. Moritz, Switzerland, had taken the first of her three straight gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games.

After decades of ups and downs, a significant breakthrough came in 1970, when the FIFA, the acronym for Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the international governing body of the sport, formally recognized women’s football. In addition to changing the sport, FIFA recognition changed the language. Thereafter, the designation of “football” was bifurcated into “men’s football” and “women’s football” and their equivalents in the other languages of the 211 national football associations of the FIFA.

In 1972, Norway Cup, an international youth football tournament literally at the grassroots level, started in Oslo. Women’s teams were included in that inception year and have played in the annual event that has become the world’s biggest youth football tournament (www.norwaycup.no/?setlang=en).

Further reading: “Jentekampen” (Girls struggle) by Wenche Fuglehaug, A-Magasinet, Jun 7, 2019: www.aftenposten.no/amagasinet/i/awKxqd/For-110000-norske-fotballjenter-er-motstanden-utenfor-banen-fremdeles-den-toffeste (in Norwegian).

This article originally appeared in the July 26, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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