Growing up, Ashleigh Werner had a dream of representing Australia in the Olympic Games, but you might say that over the years she has had some trouble picking just one sport to compete in.
Women’s football, it hasn’t been done a whole lot of justice in the men’s version of the game.
FIFA, the world’s governing body in football did its best to promote football in USA. The world’s premium football body always wanted to create a dent in a nation where ‘football’ meant less foot, more hand contact with an elliptical ball. But never to be dissuaded, FIFA came with an action plan and went beyond just lip service to promote it.
In 1974, stars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer came to USA and played exhibition games. It was followed by the establishment of football leagues, clinics and fields in school etc. Still the stubborn Americans refused to budge, hardly showing interest in the game.
In the 1982 World Cup, FIFA extended its team format, from 16 to 24, precisely to give a boost to the new teams. Yet, USA failed to qualify against Honduras and El Salvador, two minnows who represented North America in that World Cup.
El Salvador, a team which made it from North America at the expense of USA, was defeated 10-0 in that tournament by Hungary. It showed that FIFA’s effort was stillborn, rather than in infancy. USA again failed to qualify for 1986 World Cup, remembered as Maradona’s World Cup. Canada qualified for North America, and Mexico took the remaining spot as hosts.
Yet, it did not stop FIFA from awarding USA the privilege to host the World Cup in 1994. Granting the status of hosting a major tournament, is a giant and pragmatic step in promoting a sports in that nation. It wasn’t belied, as USA managed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Rome, over the more fancied Mexico from North America quota.
Then came 1994 World Cup, where America being the host nation did not have to go through the rigors for qualification. It took advantage of its home advantage to reach the elimination round, where it was defeated by the legendary Gheorghe Hagi (The Maradona of Carpathian)’s Romania.
Though more Americans followed the news of their star footballer (of the American football variety) OJ Simpson’s trial than the World Cup football on their soil, granting it the status of host nation proved to be a master stroke by FIFA. The dividends paid well and football took its roots in America.
The moral of this story is, with due diligence, persistent planning and effort, this can pay off in the long run. FIFA’s efforts in promoting the game was some real stuff, not just plain lip service, something to be emulated by other sporting bodies in the world.
No one expects America to win a FIFA World Cup nor an Olympics gold in men’s football, but it has carved its niche. It’s another matter that USA is a formidable force in the women’s game, winning the just-concluded Women’s football world cup in 2015 and a favorite in Rio.
Go ladies. Gone are the days when men were supposed to bring bacon and women stay at home. It’s now time to bring gold home, USA’s fifth gold medal in six Olympics.