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USA Women 1996

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Over 40 million American fans saw Brandi Chastain score from the penalty spot to clinch a 5-4 shoot-out win over China in the Women's World Cup final on July 10, 1999. Then-President Bill Clinton was among the 90,000 fans at Pasadena's Rose Bowl and hailed the US team as "warriors and heroes". Ben Lyttleton explores how the success helped raise the profile of female athletes, not just in America, but around the world.
The history of the US team was short and sweet before Chastain's moment of glory.
In 1986, North Carolina head coach Anson Dorrance took over the fledgling side and to scant fanfare and with little financial backing, the team won the inaugural women's World Cup in China in 1991. They came third in the 1995 World Cup, but the team's biggest success - and the one that paved the way for the popularity of the 1999 vintage - came in the 1996 Olympic Games, when USA beat China 2-1 to win the gold medal.
The team's top scorer, best player and symbol through the 1990s was Mia Hamm. People magazine named her one of the most 50 beautiful people in the world and Nike named a building after her at their Oregon HQ.
Hamm earned over £1.5 million per year through endorsement deals with 12 companies including General Motors, Nike, Mattel, Nintendo and Quaker Oats and is the reason over 7.5 million women now play football in the US. "It's very important for young girls to have female athletes they can identify with," she said.
The US's 1996 success allowed a female sporting icon into American hearts but has also helped to lift the veil for football-playing females in Third World countries. Sahar El Nawary, head of the Egyptian FA women's committee, oversaw a Fifa ruling ordering four per cent of its annual £160,000 grant to national associations to be spent on women's football. She said: "It took time to be accepted in Europe and in the States, but the opposition in Egypt was 10 times that. The problem is both cultural and financial."
But the US team is continuing to challenge these perceptions. The Mia Hamm Foundation is a non-profit national organisation dedicated in part to developing more opportunities for young women to participate in sport and this year's Women's World Cup saw 33 nations from Africa and Asia compete in qualifying.
Jere Longman, author of The Girls of Summer: The US Women's Soccer Team and How it Changed the World, claimed the 1999 success redrew the sporting map nearly 30 years after Title IX - the federal law aimed in part at prohibiting discrimination against athletes on the basis of gender - was signed on June 23, 1972. Hamm was born the same year.
"You'll never see another team like the US women's soccer team," he said. "They are true pioneers. In men's sports, and in some other women's sports, players have a history to fall back on, a mythology. These women built this game from the ground up and sold it door-to-door. They had an incredible sense of responsibility and resolve."
Hamm embodies that responsibility. As former US coach Tony DiCicco, currently Chief Operations Officer of the newly established Women's United Soccer Association (the only professional female league in the world), explained: "She's not only a soccer icon, but she's an icon for women's athletics."


By Ben Lyttleton, July 2003

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