The fight for women’s sports: World Cup, Philadelphia Independence, WNBA

The 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup began today in Germany, with the U.S. team a contender, and all games on ESPN and ESPN2. The opening games were great, France beating Nigeria 1-0, and Germany beating Canada 2-1. But the advance publicity for this event has been negligible, especially compared with that for last year’s men’s World Cup in South Africa. The New York Times has a nice article on women’s soccer in Germany, a rare piece of human interest in women’s professional sports.

Participation and interest in women’s sports at both the high school and college levels is booming in the United States. But that has not translated into a sustainable market for American women athletes after college. Philadelphia’s only professional women’s team, the Philadelphia Independence of Women’s Professional Soccer, in its second year still plays its home games at Widener University in Chester rather than at the soccer-specific stadium at PPL Park in Chester, home for the men’s Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer, also in its second year.

Women’s Professional Soccer itself is the struggling 3-year old successor to the failed Women’s United Soccer Association which existed for three seasons from 2001 through 2003. WPS games can occasionally be found on Fox Soccer Channel.

The oldest and only other national women’s professional sports league is the Women’s NBA, now in its 15th year, but still struggling and experiencing franchise failures including those of former champions the Houston Comets and Sacramento Monarchs. It has a contract for occasional coverage on ABC and ESPN, but most of its televised games are on NBA-TV.

As the father of two daughters who played high school and college sports, I’m well aware and supportive of the improved opportunities for female athletes since the 1972 amendment of Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to cover high school and collegiate athletics. I’m happy to see some professional outlets now for our most outstanding female athletes. And I’m moved by the story of WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes who between her 1993 NCAA championship at Texas Tech, and the founding of the WNBA in 1997, supported herself by selling shoes. How much talent would have gone unrecognized without the WNBA and the women’s professional soccer leagues?

What can we do to support and promote women’s professional sports? Be a fan. Attend games and watch them on TV. Talk them up. And write about them.

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