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The History of the Women’s World Cup: Empowering the Beautiful Game

As kick off to the 2023 Women’s World Cup approaches, it’s time to take a trip down memory lane and trace the incredible evolution of the women’s game throughout the years.

Alex Morgan celebrates during the 2019 World Cup Copyright: xRichardxSellersx 55460037

Australia and New Zealand will be hosting the Women’s World Cup for the first time as joint host countries in a tournament which has been expanded to 32 teams. It is going to be the ninth official edition of the tournament, but the history of of the Women’s edition of the most popular sporting event in the world has had been a story of struggle and progress going into the 21st century.

The first unofficial edition of the tournament came in 1970 in Italy, with an unofficial follow-up in 1971 in Mexico which was won by Denmark. These were not official FIFA-sanctioned events with Women’s football still being banned around the world. On 30th June 1988, FIFA approved the first official Women’s World Cup to take place in 1991 in China following a successful test tournament won by Norway. Since then, the tournament has taken place every four years. Before the tournament commences on 20th July 2023, we look at the history of the Women’s World Cup down the years.

Women’s World Cup history

The ‘unofficial’ history: building blocks for the eventual FIFA tournament

With no official tournament to represent women playing football around the world, the first few ‘unofficial’ iterations of the Women’s World Cup actually drew some significant crowds and interest. It was in 1970 when the FIEFF (The International Federation of Women’s Football) staged their own tournament in Italy which was sponsored by Martini & Rossi. Denmark won by beating their Italian hosts 2-0 in the final.

In 1971 Martini & Rossi once again chose to sponsor the tournament, this time it was to be hosted in Mexico. Interest was high following the men’s iteration of the tournament in the country the preceding year, and spectators in the stands numbered around the tens of thousands. The Danes once again won the tournament by beating host side Mexico.

Ellen Wille : the “mother’ of women’s football

With bans being lifted on women’s football in the 1970s came the establishment of club sides and eventually national teams. Whilst it did not immediately result in a World Cup until 1991, it saw official European and Asian continental competitions in 1975 and 1984 respectively. Then, Ellen Wille comes onto the scene.

1986 was a pivotal year in the development of women’s football – it saw a women speak at the 45th FIFA congress for the first time. Ellen Wille was a former Norway player and part of the country’s football federation, she used the airtime given to her at FIFA’s congress to put the spotlight on women’s football and demanded the creation of an official FIFA-sanctioned World Cup. Unexpectedly, the majority of male delegates agreed with her – and thus set the wheels in motion for the first World Cup.

1991, the first official FIFA tournament

The first tournament took place in China in 1991 after a testing of the format a year previously. 12 teams participated in this edition, who were split by confederation. Four featured from UEFA (Europe), whilst there were three from AFC (Asia), as well as two from CONCACAF (North America). There was one team from CONMEBOL (South America), CAF (Africa), and OFC (Oceania), respectively.

The first edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in a victory for the United States over Norway in the final (1-2) – with Michelle Akers scoring a historic Brace. Akars ended up as the tournament’s top scorer, with ten goals to her name.

Past Tournaments

Previous iterations of the women’s World Cup have taken place in 10 different host countries. The USA and China have hosted the tournament on two occasions each, with the Australia & New Zealand tournament being the first with 32 teams.

2019 World Cup, France

The previous edition of the Women’s World Cup took place in France with the United States winning a fourth record title and successfully defending their previous triumph. The final took place at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon with the US winning 2-0. The tournament runners-up were the Netherlands, with an average attendance of 21,756 per match. This tournament featured VAR (referee video assistant) for the first time.

2015 World Cup, Canada

The United States won their third title in Canada against the defending champions Japan in BC Place, Vancouver. The 2015 tournament used goal line technology for the first time, with it also being the first World Cup played on artificial turf.

Soccer: Women s World Cup-Final-Japan at United States Jul 5, 2015

2011 World Cup, Germany

Japan won their first World Cup title following a thrilling 2-2 draw and penalty shootout, becoming the first asian team to win the tournament. The final was held at the Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, and saw the Japanese underdogs knock the top-ranked team in the world off their perch.

Japan win the 2011 Women’s World Cup Copyright: xWittersxSport-USAxTODAYxSportsx 5430362

2007 World Cup, China

Germany won their second title in China against Brazil, becoming the first women’s national team to retain a World Cup title. The Germans opened the tournament with a record-breaking 11-0 win over Argentina.

2003 World Cup, United States

Germany became the first country to win both the Men’s and Women’s editions of the World Cup by beating Sweden in the final. China was originally slated to host the tournament, but the SARS outbreak saw it moved to America.

October 12, 2003: The German Women s national team Nationalteam celebrates at the awards ceremony of the FIFA Women s World Cup

1999 World Cup, United States

The third edition of the tournament saw the United States win their second title on home turf at the Rose Bowl in Pasedena, California. It was one of the most successful Women’s World Cup in terms of attendance, television ratings, and public interest – with 90,000 people attending the final. This was an international record for spectators at a women’s sport event.

1999 Women s World Cup Soccer The Rose Bowl during the 1999 Women s World Cup Soccer final . Copyright: xChrisxTrotman/Duomo/PCNx SC9972_619027

1995 World Cup, Sweden

Sweden became the first country to host both the men’s and women’s World Cup as Norway became the first European nation to win the Women’s World Cup against Germany at the Råsunda Stadium. One in four Norwegians watched the final. The tournament served as qualification for the 1996 Summer Olympics, with games being extended to the usual 90 minutes with three points being awarded for a win.

Past Winner’s list

The United States leads the way in the Women’s World Cup with four wins, as they hope to make it a historic fifth in Australia and New Zealand. Germany have won the tournament twice, with Norway and Japan being the only other winners since 1991. However, it is important to note that Norway and Denmark won previous “unofficial” versions of the tournament.

1991China 🇨🇳United States 🇺🇸2–1Norway
1995Sweden 🇸🇪Norway 🇳🇴2–0Germany
1999United States 🇺🇸United States 🇺🇸0–0 (a.e.t.) (5–4 p)China
2003United States 🇺🇸Germany 🇩🇪2–1 (a.e.t.)Sweden
2007China 🇨🇳Germany 🇩🇪2–0Brazil
2011Germany 🇩🇪Japan 🇯🇵2–2 (a.e.t.) (3–1 p)United States
2015Canada 🇨🇦United States 🇺🇸5–2Japan
2019France 🇫🇷United States 🇺🇸2–0Netherlands
2023Australia/New Zealand 🇦🇺 🇳🇿To be determinedTo be determined


❓Who won the most Women’s World Cup?

The USA leads the way with four Women’s World Cup titles, the nearest competitor is Germany with two titles to their name.

❓ Who is the favourite to win the Women’s World Cup?

The USA is favored to win a third consecutive Women’s World Cup title, with strong competition from England, Spain, and Germany.

❓ What teams have won the Women’s World Cup?

The United States, Norway, Germany, and Japan have all won the Women’s World Cup since its first iteration in 1991.

❓Has New Zealand won the Women’s World Cup?

Whilst they are the hosts of the 2023 edition of the Women’s World Cup, the Football Ferns (New Zealand) have never won the competition.

❓How many editions of the Women’s World Cup have their been?

The 2023 Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will be the 9th edition of the tournament.

❓ Where will the Women’s World Cup be in July and August 2023?

The Women’s World Cup 2023 will kick off with a match between New Zealand and Norway at Eden Park, Auckland on July 20th. The tournament will culminate in the final, which is set to be held on August 20th at Sydney Olympic Stadium in Australia.

George Boxall
28 articles
18+ | Please play responsibly | Terms and Conditions apply | Commercial Content