This book examines why soccer has become the most popular team sport for women and girls, not just in North America but globally as well. This process has taken only a few decades, which is shocking since some countries like Brazil and Germany even banned the sport in the 1960s and 1970s. Federation Internationale de Football Association (fifa), the sport’s governing body, determined through its Big Count global survey of participants that 26 million women played the sport in 2006; this is 10 percent of the estimated 265 million total players. Four million women and girls registered with a fifa member for an organized team, an increase of 54 percent since the previous survey in 2000. Millions around the world watch the Women’s World Cup every four years. Nowhere do so many girls and women play the game as in the United States, whose 1.6 million registered players are more than the sum total of the fourteen nations who rank behind it. Women’s soccer has brought new energy, ideas, opportunities, and fans to the sport. In the United States it is the biggest women’s college sport. In Canada, fully a third of all players are female, the highest percentage of any country or territory in the world, contributing to soccer eclipsing hockey as the most popular game among Canadian youth. How did women’s soccer grow so quickly? What obstacles did it overcome, what problems does it still face, and what does the future hold?
Part I examines the history of the sport in the United States. The