Over the last 30 years, the American women's football team has amassed an impressive series of results in terms of world and Olympic titles. This success is based on Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendment Act, which guarantees women the same rights as men with respect to school and university sports programs. Donna de Varona, Olympic swimming champion and chair of the organizing committee of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, was well-positioned to observe this evolution.
Donna de Varona is a major figure in American sport. A two-time Olympic swimming champion in Tokyo in 1964 and a sports journalist on television, she and tennis player Billie Jean King are behind the Women's Sports Foundation, which promotes women's sports activities. in the USA. She chaired the Organizing Committee of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup and is a member of the IOC Women and Sport Commission, to mention only part of her career.
"People often ask me why I stopped competing at the age of 17. I had 18 world records, 18 titles, 37 national titles and two Olympic gold medals. All this in adolescence in the 1960s, a hectic period known for its pioneers, but not really for girls in swimsuits having a significant impact in terms of lasting change. The answer to the question is quite simple: there was no title IX in the federal law of my time. The high-level female college sport, which we see almost every day on television and which offers a way to get into the best academic institutions, was not there to help female athletes to prolong their career at the peak of their physical performances and their prowess. "
But all of this would change thanks to the Education Amendment Act passed by the US Congress in June 1972, Title IX of which states: "In the United States, no one shall be excluded from the right to participate in the United States. discriminated against or discriminated against in any education program or activity supported by the federal government. "
As De Varona explains, "In the early 70s, about 50,000 men went to university through sports scholarships, against about 50 women. In high school, only one girl out of 27 practiced a sporting activity. The effects of Title IX were considerable in many areas, notably sport, as women gradually benefited from university scholarships such as men and women. to raise awareness within the NCAA, which organizes national competitions.
Prior to the Women's World Cup final, Donna was invited to be part of a panel at the 2019 Equal Playing Field Summit, organized by Equal Playing Field on July 5th. in Lyon, bringing together opinion leaders, policy makers and players. and experts from the world football programs to discuss and share solutions on real-world challenges. Building a safe sporting environment, balanced representation and integrating human rights into football are just some of the topics.
Donna explained to the public the IOC's desire to remove the barriers that prevent women and girls from participating and being represented in sport at all levels. In this regard, Donna shared the implementation work of the IOC Gender Equality Review Project, a comprehensive review consisting of 25 recommendations divided into five themes: Sport, Governance, Representation, Funding and human resources. The IOC was also represented in another panel that focused on the prevention of harassment and abuse in sport. The toolkit developed by the IOC for the International Federation and the National Olympic Committees on the safeguarding of athletes was presented and discussed.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans take the football
American football and baseball, two of the major sports that are part of the American national identity, are associated with manhood in the collective imagination, which is not the case of football, sports number one in South America, Europe and Africa, but not the USA. As a result, free of all sexism, hundreds of thousands of American girls started kicking footballs in high school. "An excellent sport for girls, with very good coaches; a team sport in which they support each other and create models, "explains De Varona.
The result was the creation of an incredible pool of talent, leading to the showcase of women's football, the US Women's National Team (USWINT), the best team in the world since the start of the biggest competitions in the world: the FIFA Women's World Cup (1991) and the women's tournament at the Olympic Games (1996).
FIFA created the Women's World Cup in 1986 after various international tournaments such as the "Mundialito" (organized from 1981 to 1988). The first edition was held in the People's Republic of China in November 1991. It attracted 12 teams and the United States. The team with superstar Mia Hamm, a product of the university system, won the final against Norway, 2-1. The IOC introduced women's football at the Atlanta Games in 1996, with a different rule than men: although all Games players were under 23 years of age, with three exceptions, no such restrictions has women, who could therefore send the same teams to the World Cup and the Games. USWNT won the first gold medal in front of 76,000 spectators at Stanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia, beating China 2-1.
New development with the 1999 FIFA World Cup
A very important new development was recorded for women's football in 1999, with the third World Cup organized in the United States. "The greatest sporting experience of my life," says De Varona, who chaired the organizing committee. "Nobody thought we could organize a World Cup in the biggest stages of the country. But we did it. The Americans faced China in the Pasadena Rose Bowl final on July 10, in front of 90,000 spectators and 18 million viewers. They won on penalties (0-0 at the end of regulation time) thanks to the last successful shot of Brandi Chastain, famous for having then ripped his shirt off at an ecstatic goal celebration. New vocations were born in the United States as a result of this second world triumph.
Generation after generation, the US women's teams won at the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games were finalists in 2000 (beaten by Norway in a penalty shootout) and never left the podium before the 2016 Games in Rio, where they were defeated. by Sweden in the quarter-finals, again on penalties. In the middle of this series of successes, Carli Lloyd made a name by scoring all of his team's goals in the 2008 finals against Brazil (1-0) and in 2012 against Japan (2-1). ). The Americans also did not leave the World Cup podium: finalists in 2011 and third in 1995, 2003 and 2007, they won their third world title in Canada in 2015, beating Japan 5-2 with a lap captain Carli Lloyd's hat. in the first 16 minutes of the game, including an extraordinary lobbed mid-line goal: she was named woman of the match for this and voted best player of this World Cup.
In France, in 2019, the team of the new football superstar "made in the USA", Alex Morgan, is again the favorite of the 24 participating teams, and Carli Lloyd is there again. After losing in the quarter-finals at the 2016 Rio Games, she said, "You'd better believe that in 2019 in France and in 2020 at the Tokyo Games, we'll be back to win the silver medal." but to believe it?
In general, De Varona concludes: "On the Olympic scene, the Americans continued to dominate, thus continuing the legacy of their sports predecessors. During the Summer Games in particular, they are doing well thanks to the fantastic equipment and training offered by university sports programs. Recent studies by Ernst and Young show that 94% of women in management positions in the 500 largest US companies participated in sports competitions, and 50% of them at university level. The link between available sport opportunities and subsequent successes could not be clearer and is a powerful indicator of the extent to which effective policy can impact culture, society, workforce and ultimately , the economy as a whole. Title IX has unleashed the potential of half the American population, not only on the playing field, but in all areas. "