19 February 2018

Professional women’s football first saw its rise in 1971 when the English Football Association lifted the ban on women’s football, but it was only as late as 1991 that women’s football received recognition and a significant boost on an international scale. It was the year of the very first FIFA Women’s World Cup.  


To test the waters for an international women’s football tournament, FIFA staged a prototype event of the soon-to-be Women’s World Cup called the “FIFA Women’s Invitation Tournament”. It was held in China in 1988 – 58 years after the first men’s FIFA World Cup in 1930. It was at this time that the President of FIFA, Dr. João Havelange, spoke in favour of a first-ever Women’s World Cup.


After the tournament was deemed a success, FIFA approved the establishment of a Women’s World Cup and the first official tournament took place in 1991. The event, however, was surrounded by controversy as it didn’t even carry the title “FIFA Women’s World Cup”. Instead, the tournament was called the "1st FIFA World Championship for Women's Football for the M&Ms Cup” as it was sponsored by Mars Inc. There was further debate surrounding the length of both the event (only two weeks) and the duration of the matches, which were only 80 minutes long rather than the usual 90 minutes of men’s matches. April Heinreichs, captain of the United States team even remarked: “They were afraid our ovaries were going to fall out if we played 90.”


The tournament took place from the 16th -30th November 1991 in China. At the time, the host country was trying to secure an Olympic bid and therefore assured that the event would have impressive turnouts. The tournament consisted of 12 teams and 26 matches with thousands of factory workers attending each game. At the final match that the U.S. Women’s team won 2-1 against Norway, the players were cheered on by some 65,000 spectators.




Today women’s football is still faced with huge disparities in media coverage and wages. However, attendances are growing for female leagues, there are more female sports reporters than ever before and female players are getting more recognition for their success on the pitch. 


The first Women’s World Cup taking place in 1991 came a whole 61 years after the first Men’s World Cup in 1930 and even before it became a women’s Olympic sporting event in 1996. The tournament faced a considerable amount of reluctance and controversy, but was nonetheless truly a coming of age story for women’s football.


“When people look back, they think we were born on the top of the mountain. We climbed the mountain,” said Anson Dorrance, U.S. women’s national team.


The Women’s World Cup gaining recognition helped to highlight crucial issues in the sporting community and to push an agenda for equal rights on the pitch. The 1991 matches were a first big step in celebrating women’s achievements and representation at all levels of the game showing the world that the “F” in football can also stand for “female”. 

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