You would think that with the best women's football team in the world the United States would show more love towards their players. However, growing up as US citizen (and football fan!) I have never known women's football the way Europeans have, and seeing the huge public support and love for the sport in Sweden has been eye-opening.
I'm aware of how much women football players have struggled to gain recognition in the last few years in Europe too. But it was refreshing to come to Stockholm and witness the love that Swedes have for their national women's team and how the country openly strives to improve in regards to equality in women's sport.
Despite having major success on the field, and plenty of support worldwide, the US women's team have faced a huge amount of negative coverage back home. Many US publications and even the president have criticized Megan Rapinoe's refusal to visit the White House, calling her “unpatriotic” and “ungrateful” to her country, even while her and her team secure win after win in the Women's World Cup (WWC). Other news outlets have focused on the team's supposed “arrogance” on the field, calling their goal celebrations against Thailand and the UK disrespectful.
I have just not seen this type of angry criticism in Sweden, and have found it an extremely positive environment in which to watch the tournament. The Swedish national team has a slew of supporters of all genders and ages and even with their disappointing loss yesterday, Swedish fans I spoke to remained full of love for their team.
Fans sharing a drink before Sweden vs Netherlands match. Photo: Madeline Tersigni
When I first arrived in Sweden this summer, certain things about the country immediately stood out. First and foremost, the lack of catcalling even in a major city such as Stockholm. Although it's not perfect, I've found Sweden to be an open, accepting, and feminist country, and this shines through in the support for the women's football team.
In the United States, I had never seen many commercials for the Women's World Cup, while Sweden had everything from in-depth features in national newspapers to advertisements all across the city. There was also a difference in the language used by fans and journalists to talk about the players. Yes, there were debates over tactics used by the players, but it seems rarer to read an article criticizing them for personal reasons.
Tommy Kedja and Johanna Englund showing support for the Swedish women's national team. Photo: Madeline Tersigni
Additionally, It's great to see boys and men taking such an interest in women's soccer right from the beginning. I've spotted dozens of young boys wearing their Sweden shirts during the tournament and when I watched Sweden vs the Netherlands at a popular sports bar called The Crib, by Retro, I was surprised to see more men at the bar than women, waiting in anticipation for the match to start. Elsewhere in Stockholm, there were long queues for one of the most popular viewing spots at club Trädgården even more than an hour before kick-off.
“I've watched every game,” fan Tim Widmark enthused at The Crib. “Only for Sweden though. I'm very excited about tonight's game. I really think they can beat the Netherlands.”
Even though it wasn't to be, the disappointing loss didn't translate to disappointment in the team, with most fans simply switching their focus to the third place play-offs. Another fan watching at the bar, Jerker Eriksson, ended the night hopeful.
“Of course, I'm sad they didn't make it to the finals, that would have been great to see. But they still have another game now for third place and I think it could be interesting,” Eriksson said. “We (Sweden) have a history with England so it could be a really fun game.”
Tim Widmark along with Marcus Ranngren and a friend get ready to watch Sweden vs Netherlands game. Photo: Madeline Tersigni
Watching the game at a local Stockholm bar was a great experience. The energy was intense, with people holding on to the edges of their seat, anxiously staring at the screen hoping for a victory. I've never seen so many different people get together to enjoy women's football like I did last night.
“I am a little surprised at Sweden's successes, but also about the development of women's football. It feels as if the level, tempo and quality have become much higher than just a few years ago and I think that is very fun to see!” Niklas Jönsson told The Local.
Enthusiastic fans showing their support for Sverige. Photo: Madeline Tersigni
Sweden does still have a way to go.
Some of the capital's major sports bars still do not show any women's football, despite a clear demand, and are still paid significantly less than their male peers. But countries such as the US should take note of Sweden's enthusiasm and respect for their players, and focus on their hard work rather than finding a scandalous headline.
It's given me hope to see the reaction here, and even if they didn't make it to the final, Sweden's women have a lot to be proud of.