B.C. Place is at full capacity – 52, 193 spectators – and there’s an overwhelming colour theme: a sea of red, white and blue visible from every corner of the stadium. Yet in one of the upper-bowl sections, a small but energetic crowd of green-clad, drumming fans are making their voices heard. Welcome to the FIFA Women’s World Cup: USA vs. Nigeria, where everyone is cheering loud and proud.
“We love Vancouver, it’s awesome and this is such a great experience,” say three women, dressed in USA colours from head to toe. Stacey Atwater, Samantha Kephart and Elizabeth Rivas are from Southern California and traveled to Vancouver to watch their country in action at the biggest international competition in women’s soccer.
The three women came up to Vancouver just for this game and are pleasantly surprised to find many of their compatriots have also made the trip.
“I notice there’s a lot of USA fans; it’s nice to know how many people show up to a game out[side] of the country,” says Atwater, 20.
Atwater and her friends also recognize it’s not only their country on the world stage.
“I guess Americans are just super aggressive about our sports…in a good way. We just get into it and Canadians are there, supporting us, they don’t mind us cheering at restaurants,” says Atwater.
Rivas adds to her friend’s sentiments about Canadian hospitality.
“Everyone’s been so respectful- [the Canadian team] is playing too and [they’re] letting us walk around and take over,” says Rivas, 21.
A hard-fought contest
Nigerian fans had travelled even farther to watch their team in action, including Senator Anosike Emmanuel, who was visiting Vancouver for the first time
After the match, which ended 1-0 in favour of the USA, Emmanuel pays tribute to the performance of the Nigerian squad against the heavily-favoured Americans.
“Even with this, the (Nigerian) girls played very, very well. I wasn’t expecting them to play the way they played. It was very close. I expected 5-0 for the Americans,” says Emmanuel.
He appreciated the difficulty the Nigerian team faced playing in front of what seemed like a home crowd for the Americans.
“If you were in the field, you would feel intimidated…it looked like it was America playing America in America, and not even in Canada,” says Emmanuel.
Alongside Emmanuel, Bola Asaju, another Nigerian fan who had flown from Nigeria to Vancouver to watch and support her country, offers her thoughts on the game.
“It was amazing; both teams played very well,” says Asaju.
A place for women
Asaju also noted that the World Cup is more than winning and losing but about progress.
“It shows that we, women, are coming up, in every sector. Before [people] believed sport is for men but now women are ‘making it’,” she says.
As three women who are fans of the ‘beautiful game,’ Atwater, Kephart and Rivas recognize the importance of a level playing field.
“It’s awesome to see the support the women’s game has gotten, especially since it’s always been about the men, and the women are finally getting recognized,” says Rivas.
But Kephart, 22, says the field the best female soccer players are playing on is still a topic of discussion.
“I think both men and women need to be treated equally – the women have to play on the turf field while the men don’t? Making sure everything is equal will bring out better support as well,” Kephart.
The three friends say support for soccer players, female or male, starts at the grassroots level.
“A lot of club teams have sponsors for kids who can’t afford it, so more sponsors would be awesome,” says Atwater, who plays soccer at the collegiate level.
Rivas adds starting off at a young age is also an advantage.
“Targeting the youth is important too because the next generation is going to make sure it’s a level playing field; [this would be] helpful,” says Rivas.