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World Cup kiss undermines huge progress in women's game

Spain’s brilliant victory at the Women’s World Cup was almost immediately overshadowed by a controversial kiss which proved that despite a great deal of progress in the women’s game more structural change is needed.

Former Spanish FA President Luis Rubiales was banned for three years from all football-related activities after kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips, allegedly without consent, following the final in Australia in August.

While the tournament, also co-hosted by New Zealand, was judged a huge success the players returned to their clubs where they earn a fraction of what their male counterparts get.

The lack of financial security is one reason cited as why many players are afraid to speak out about what they see as inequalities and mistreatment.

One player at a club in the Women’s Super League in England was pulled from the squad just minutes before a pre-season friendly and told that a car was coming to collect her as she had been transferred.

Neither the player nor her agent had been consulted about the deal.

The player said she wanted to remain anonymous due to fears about getting a reputation as a troublemaker and damaging her future employment prospects.

Yet for all the difficulties players faced the action on the pitch reached a standard never seen before as fans flocked to stadiums around the world to watch both domestic games and internationals.

Australia’s Matildas became one of the nation’s most-loved sports teams, booting the more popular winter sports off the back pages of newspapers, while record crowds attended games in England’s top flight.

The Champions League final saw Barcelona come back from two goals down to beat VfL Wolfsburg 3-2 in a thriller, and Spain’s 1-0 win over England in the World Cup final drew record TV audiences in both countries.

For some it was the end of an era.

Canada’s Christine Sinclair, the game’s record international goal scorer, Caroline Seger, the metronome at the heart of Sweden’s midfield for the best part of two decades, and U.S. star Megan Rapinoe all playing in their last World Cup.

But there was also a comeback for the ages.

Midfielder Sinead Farrelly, who abruptly retired in December 2016 at the age of 27, made a remarkable return to the game with NY/NJ Gotham FC in the NWSL.

At 34, she was then called up to represent Ireland, the country of her father’s birth, at the World Cup. She capped her comeback by winning the NWSL as Gotham beat Rapinoe’s OL Reign in the title decider.

(Published 14 December 2023, 03:30 IST)

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