PARIS — Perhaps something was lost in translation. Or maybe I had missed something, I thought, upon first seeing the official slogan for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
“Dare to Shine!”
Was a kindergarten dance recital in the offing, in which shy little girls might need to be coaxed on stage, in conjunction with the tournament?
“Dare to Shine” is splashed in large, cheerful letters on the royal-blue banners ringing Parc des Princes, the Parisian venue that will host Friday’s World Cup opener, in which France takes on South Korea.
The slogan, trademarked by FIFA, the sport’s governing body, looked so upbeat on the banner. So uplifting, in its perky script. Yet each word except “to” is patronizing to the 24 teams and 552 women who will battle over the next four weeks for soccer’s greatest trophy.
“Shining” is not what Abby Wambach was doing in the United States’ 2007 World Cup opener in China, when she leaped and collided with North Korea’s Ri Kum Suk, split her head open and fell to the ground, blood gushing like water from a fire hydrant. Because Wambach, who retired as international soccer’s all-time leading scorer, was too valuable to lose for the rest of the match, she was sent to the locker room for stitches to close a wound deep enough to reveal her skull while she screamed at the medical crew to get her back on the field.
Michelle Akers did not need “daring” to take over a game with her skill and aggression. Akers, hailed by FIFA as one of the two greatest female players of the 20th century, demanded the ball when she was on the field. And she demanded to be in the lineup, playing through a torn knee ligament and dislocated shoulder while battling chronic fatigue syndrome and needing IVs after nearly every match in her 15 years on the U.S. national team.
“Dare to Shine” fails to capture what the world’s best soccer players actually will do over the next month at World Cup stadiums in Grenoble, Le Havre, Lyon, Montpellier, Nice, Paris, Reims, Rennes and Valenciennes.
They will sweat, fight, foul, kick, run until their lungs empty and spill their guts in pursuit of the World Cup trophy. Along the way, some will vomit and shed blood. Others will blow out a knee, lose teeth, tear a hamstring, break an ankle and suffer a concussion.
They are athletes to their core — not inhibited by the self-doubt that kept far too many young women off playing fields in previous decades, when girls feared building muscle and shied away from competition, worried that winning might hurt their opponent’s feelings.
The women contesting the 2019 World Cup are unrelenting and unapologetic in pursuit of greatness — no different than champions in other sports.
Did Serena Williams need “daring” to “shine” on a tennis court? Did Katie Ledecky in the pool? Lindsey Vonn on the slopes? Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team?
How about Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier? Is “Dare to Shine” what they did in the “Thrilla in Manilla?”
Sadly, FIFA has never embraced the brutal, brilliant athleticism of women’s soccer — much less celebrated or adequately rewarded it. For decades, FIFA has treated women’s soccer as if it’s some sort of exercise in self-esteem for female players and young girls. Real soccer is what men play.
In January 2004, FIFA’s then-president, Sepp Blatter, proposed his own idea for marketing women’s soccer: hot pants!
"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball,” Blatter said. “They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so.”
Now comes the 2019 Women’s World Cup, with “Dare to Shine!”
Perhaps the intent was to be inspirational, to send a message to little girls and boys.
No doubt, the best female soccer players in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Ghana, the United States and other nations will inspire — if that’s what “shine” means. And they will do so wholeheartedly.
But inspiring little girls isn’t all the women in the 2019 World Cup will do. They are athletes first. A slogan that reduces the 2019 Women’s World Cup to a Hallmark greeting card sends a message both tired and tin-eared.