Few events in women’s sport generate more attention than the football World Cup. Around 750m people watched the last tournament with France hosting the 2019 competition, featuring the defending champions from the US.

But the American team’s battle off the pitch may reveal more about the state of women’s football than match day performances. In March, the squad filed a lawsuit against USA Soccer, the governing body of the sport in the country, alleging gender discrimination. The vast pay gap between the men’s and women’s teams – despite the women consistently outperforming the men and generating more revenue – is just one aspect of the legal undertaking.

Image: BBC

The squad is arguing for more than a pay raise. Its members want increased support for developing youth football, promoting the game and better pathways for women in international leadership roles. These factors are critical to the future success of the sport and improving opportunities for girls and women to benefit from participation.

This struggle extends far beyond one team, one sport or one country. It forms part of a much wider movement for equal rights across all levels of sport, human rights and politics.

In February 2019, an important step was taken when the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the Swiss government agreed to carry out a feasibility study into the creation of a new “global observatory” for women and sport.

A global observatory (a source of information, analysis and activism) would help align several parallel movements: the UN’s overall efforts to promote gender equality, its sustainable development goals in low and middle income countries, and the ongoing struggle for girls and women in sport.

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