The first FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in Canada, and only the third in North America, the 2015 tournament was the largest and most watched in Women’s World Cup history. Team Canada made it to the quarterfinals,a significant improvement from the 2011 tournament. The popularity of the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, particularly among young girls, reflects the increasing interest in soccer in a country known primarily for its love of hockey.

Bidding for the Games

On 25 November 2010, the Canadian Soccer Association unveiled its plans to bid for the seventh FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Women’s World Cup of Soccer in 2015. The tournament, which is considered the most significant women’s soccer event in the world, had only been held twice in North America to that point, both times in the United States (1999 and 2003).

The 2015 Women’s World Cup would be the largest ever. In four years, the tournament had expanded from 16 to 24 teams and from 32 to 52 total matches.

Canada originally bid against Zimbabwe for the right to host the tournament; however, Zimbabwe withdrew its application on 1 March 2011. On 3 March 2015, FIFA officially approved the Canadian bid.

It was the first time that a single-sport event would be held in cities across the country: Vancouver, British Columbia; Edmonton, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Ottawa, Ontario; Montréal, Québec and Moncton, New Brunswick.

Artificial Turf Controversy

On 1 October 2014, more than 60 female soccer players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and FIFA for the decision to play the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup games on artificial turf instead of real grass. Soccer players from Germany, Japan, Spain, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and the United States came together to file their complaint with the human rights tribunal court of Ontario (the CSA office is based in Ontario).

The players argued that artificial turf changes the nature of the game and that it is dangerous to play on (risk of turf burn). The human rights case put forth that the decision to use artificial turf was based on gender discrimination: throughout the history of the FIFA Men’s World Cup, every tournament has been played on real grass. Representatives from FIFA meanwhile argued that the turf was within “the competition regulations and in the laws of the game” and that there was no greater chance of injury for players on artificial turf compared with real grass. The lawsuit was dropped in January 2015.

Official Draw

On 6 December 2014, the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Québec, hosted the Official Draw of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The 24 nations that qualified for the competition were separated into six groups:

A

B

C

D

E

F

Canada

Germany

Cameroon

Australia

Brazil

Colombia

China

Ivory Coast

Ecuador

Nigeria

Costa Rica

England

Netherlands

Norway

Japan

Sweden

South Korea

France

New Zealand

Thailand

Switzerland

United States

Spain

Mexico

Opening Day in Edmonton

The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup officially started on 6 June 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. Canadian musicians Sarah McLachlan and Tegan and Sara performed during the opening ceremonies, in which Canadian athletes Kara Lang (soccer), Hayley Wickenheiser (hockey) and Chantal Petitclerc (wheelchair racing) also participated.

The ceremonies were followed by a Group A match between Canada and China. Canada beat China 1–0 on a penalty kick by Christine Sinclair in the 92nd minute. The total attendance for the game was 53,058.

Team Canada’s Results

After a 0–0 tie against New Zealand on 11 June 2015 in Edmonton, Team Canada once again played to a tie against the Netherlands on 15 June 2015 at Olympic Stadium in Montréal. Ashley Lawrence of Toronto, Ontario, scored Canada’s lone goal at the 10-minute mark. The Netherlands then tied the game with three minutes left in regulation time. With the tie, Canada won Group A with a record of one win and two draws.

On 21 June 2015, Team Canada advanced to the quarterfinals with a 1-0 win over Switzerland. The lone Canadian goal scorer was Josée Bélanger of Coaticook, Québec, who scored in the 52nd minute. The game was played in front of a crowd of 53,855 at B.C. Place in Vancouver.

However, on 27 June 2015, Team Canada was eliminated from the tournament after a 2–1 loss to England. Early in the game, the Canadians gave up two quick goals to the English side in just three minutes of play.

The quarterfinal game between Canada and England was attended by 54,027, the largest crowd ever to watch a men’s or women’s national team of any sport on Canadian soil. The match also drew an average television audience of 3.2 million Canadians; around 7.5 million Canadians in total watched all or part of the game on television.

Gold Medal Game

On 5 July 2015, the United States beat Japan 5–2 in the highest scoring Women’s World Cup Final of all time. Over 53,000 fans watched the game at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver. By the 16-minute mark, the United States were leading 4–0, three of those goals scored by Carli Lloyd, who became the first soccer player to score three goals in a Women’s World Cup Final.

Lloyd won the Golden Ball Award, which is presented to the best player of the FIFA World Cup Finals. At the age of only 19, Canadian defender Kadeisha Buchanan of Toronto, Ontario, received the Hyundai Best Young Player Award.

Notable Moments

The 2015 Women’s World Cup was a thrilling tournament, one of exciting matches, some surprises and moments of international harmony. The Norwegians, for example, became very popular in the Ottawa region because they opened a training session to the public — on 5 June they invited youth soccer players from Ottawa to run drills with them at the end of a practice. Fans later watched Norway defeat Thailand on 7 June at Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa.

Classic in Winnipeg

One of the most exciting games from the opening round took place at Winnipeg Stadium on 8 June 2015 as Sweden and Nigeria played to a 3–3 tie. Sweden was up 2–0 in the match when Nigeria scored in the 50th minute. The Nigerian team quickly scored again, evening the score at 2–2. Sweden took a 3–2 lead in the 60th minute, but their lead did not last. When Nigerian forward Francisca Ordega scored in the 87th minute, tying the game at 3–3, Nigerian manager Edwin Okon got down on his knees and kissed the Winnipeg turf.

Upsets in Moncton

Fans in Moncton, New Brunswick, certainly got their money’s worth. The most notable upset from the opening round of the tournament came on 13 June 2015 when Colombia, ranked 28th in the world, upset third-ranked France with a 2–0 win at Moncton Stadium. It was Colombia’s first victory in the history of the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The biggest upset in the first knockout round also came at the Moncton Stadium. On 21 June 2015, Australia beat world soccer powerhouse Brazil 1–0. It was the first time Australia had won an elimination game in Women’s World Cup history.

Significance

The first FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in Canada, and only the third in North America, the 2015 tournament was the largest and most watched in Women’s World Cup history. Over 1.3 million fans attended the 2015 games, with an average of about 26,000 spectators per game. The biggest audience was over 54,000 for the Canada–England quarter-final in Vancouver — even more significant, perhaps, was the fact that an average of 3.2 million Canadians watched the game on television, more than the average Canadian audience for Game 6 of the 2015 Stanley Cup finals.

Overall, more people watched the Women’s World Cup on television than ever before. The final game between the United States and Japan broke television records in both countries. In the United States, it was the most popular soccer game ever to be televised in the country. In Canada, the final was the most popular television program that weekend, as about 7.7 million Canadians watched some or all of the game. Overall, about 20.8 million Canadians (almost 60 per cent of the population) watched the tournament on television — this included 10.1 million women. And over half of Canadian girls (2–17) watched the 2015 Women’s World Cup, an increase from the 29 per cent who watched in 2011.

While some have criticized Team Canada’s performance, the 2015 tournament was a significant improvement from the previous World Cup. In 2011, Canada finished last at the Women’s World Cup in Germany. In 2015, the team made it to the quarter-finals. More importantly, the team and the tournament will likely inspire more Canadian girls to take up the sport, fuelling dreams of representing their country on the international stage.