Rivals on the field, sisters off it: Inside culture of 'sorority' in women's soccer

Yahoo Sports

LYON, France — Scotland and Argentina had just finished one of the most thrilling games of this Women’s World Cup, a rough-and-tumble 3-3 tie in Paris that knocked the Scots — who had led by three goals with less than 20 minutes to play — out of the competition. The Scottish players were devastated. The Argentines were elated, the point they earned enough to keep their dreams alive of advancing to the knockout stage for the first time for at least another day.

The celebrations were muted. Instead of reveling in their unlikely result, the Argentines were for the most part walking around the field trying to console their opponents.

There have been scenes like that one at Parc des Princes throughout France 2019. One of the lasting images of the tournament might be Japanese captain Saki Kumagai bawling in Dutch winger Shanice van de Sanden’s arms after Kumagai gave away a late penalty that Lieke Martens converted to send the Netherlands into the quarterfinals.

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“One of the best things about women’s soccer is this feeling of sorority that happens between national teams that you don’t see too much on the men’s side,” Argentina goalkeeper Gaby Garton told Yahoo Sports in an interview last month. “Every women’s national team has its own struggle. You’re able to relate to them.”

When the men’s teams from Brazil and Argentina meet in international competition, as they did earlier this week in the Copa America semifinals, it’s a war. The South American neighbors are that continent’s two most successful sides. They have been blood enemies on the soccer field for more than a century. With the women, it’s different.

Netherlands winger Shanice Van De Sanden (L) consoles Saki Kumagai of Japan after the Dutch advanced to the Women's World Cup quarterfinals. (Marcio Machado/Getty)
Netherlands winger Shanice Van De Sanden (L) consoles Saki Kumagai of Japan after the Dutch advanced to the Women's World Cup quarterfinals. (Marcio Machado/Getty)

“Brazil cheers for us when we play and we cheer for them,” Garton said. “Because we know what each other is going through. We’re competing, but we’re still sisters.”

Even in wealthy countries in Europe and North America, where the women’s game is comparatively well-funded, there’s a camaraderie between players —at least when the game is over.

Denmark canceled a friendly match in 2017 over a pay dispute. Norway’s federation agreed to a compensation deal that same year that pays its men’s and women’s players equally, but that wasn’t enough to convince Ada Hegerberg — winner of the Ballon d’Or award last year as the world’s best female player — to end her boycott of the national team. As as result, Hegerberg did not play in the World Cup, saying in May that her country still has “a long way to go.”

That’s also the case in the United States, despite boasting the most successful program in the history of the women’s game.

“We’re trying to do our best to raise the respect of women’s football around the world,” U.S. star Alex Morgan said Friday, two days before her team takes on the Dutch in the World Cup final. Morgan is one of the 28 USWNT players who filed a discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer earlier this year. “Because at the moment, as lucky as we feel in the U.S., being so respected and applauded as a female athlete, it’s not the case, unfortunately, in many countries around the world.”

And so the struggle continues.

“When you play against each other, you always want to win no matter what,” said Swedish defender Linda Sembrant. “But we’re all on the same page when it comes to improving football for all the countries. That’s amazing. It makes me happy to see that it’s growing and taking steps forward in the right way.

“We need to take the steps and challenge people to make things happen in Sweden,” Sembrant continued. “When you see other countries do it, it helps out. That’s the feeling. Even when we’re rivals, we’re together. It’s like a ball that’s really rolling now. It’s inspiring.”

“In the women’s game, we’re all in it together,” said U.S. forward Christen Press. “And when you see growth, especially when it comes to equality and resources from different federations, for countries that haven’t had it, I think we all celebrate that together.”

Argentina's Eliana Stabile (L) consoles Scotland's Erin Cuthbert after their group stage match on June 19 in Paris. (Getty)
Argentina's Eliana Stabile (L) consoles Scotland's Erin Cuthbert after their group stage match on June 19 in Paris. (Getty)

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