Oranje women inspiring more girls to play football

Young Oranje fans after the Lionesses beat Sweden in the World Cup semi-finals in Lyon, 3 July 2019
Young Oranje fans after the Lionesses beat Sweden in the World Cup semi-finals in Lyon, 3 July 2019Photo: NL Times

It was an intense battle but midfielder Jackie Groenen ensured the European champions secured their place in World Cup history to face-off the defending champions, the United States, at this Sunday’s finals. The women of the Oranje Lionesses celebrated their semi-final 1-0 victory over Sweden on Wednesday, and thereby their first foray into the World Cup finals, with both jubilation and disbelief. 

“It's incredible; we never knew this would be possible,” Groenen said to reporters right after the match. Groenen’s extra-time strike broke the 0-0 deadlock at the 99th minute, putting an end to the nail-biting tension of who would move on to challenge the United States in Lyon over the weekend. 

Oranje’s rise to glory has been garnering steady interest with each match attracting more and more viewers. Their match against Italy reigned in 2.7 million viewers, at the time “the most-viewed television program of the day.” According to figures from Stichting Kijkonderzoek (SKO), more than five million viewers tuned in to watch on Wednesday as they defeated Sweden. Kijkonderzoek’s director Sjoerd Pennekamp expects those figures to rise again this Sunday. The match time of 5:00 p.m. means that the younger audience will also be able to watch.

“I think the perception of the Dutch audience is changing and people start to value the team and the women's game more,” said Niels Rudolphus, a consultant at the sports agency Two Circles, about the rise in viewership. “They're [Oranje] becoming role models for young and old people and the audience start to realize women's football is really interesting to watch.”

Rudolphus praised broadcasters and news outlets for delivering stories about the team and individual players this World Cup season, and hopes this inspires young women to invest in the game, even striving to “one day be at the World Cup themselves.”

A 2017 UEFA report showed that there was a 133,082 increase in registered female youth players between 2016 and 2017 after the Netherlands’ history-making European championship win. The report stated: “Growth in women’s football also means that youngsters, in particular, have an increasing number of female role models.” A direct influence in young women’s growing interest in the sport. 

Tim Ramselaar, KNVB’s youth scout for girls' football, has been following the games closely. “This World Cup is so important for the Netherlands,” Ramselaar said to the NL Times. “It encourages girls to play football.”

With confident players like Dominique Bloodworth, whose eyes were already on a win for the Oranje women on Sunday as she spoke to AD after beating the Swedes, young Dutch women, girls and all Oranje fans alike can look forward to an exhilarating match on Sunday. “Of course the Americans are favorite, they will probably think they are going to win. But we are going to make it as difficult as possible for them. We will do everything we can to win from them now.”

The Netherlands will face off against the United States in Lyon at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday.