The slogan for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was ‘Beyond Greatness,’ and barriers were broken across the board.
Record attendances in stadiums were just shy of 2 million, Australian TV smashed its all-time viewing record for the semifinal against England, and we’re bound to learn that more of the world was watching than ever before when the global audience figures are released.
You already know there were close to 100 publicly out players in Australia and New Zealand, before we even mention coaches, media, fans and giant penguins (I’m getting to that very soon).
So let’s run down Outsports’ 10 takeaways from the most beautifully inclusive month of soccer we’ve ever seen…
1. A mascot with hair like Megan Rapinoe will quickly get queer-coded.
With an expression suggesting a permanent state of excitement, Tazuni proved to be a hugely popular mascot with fans.
The penguin was described as “streetwise and confident” in the official literature and when she finally got to meet fellow blue-haired midfielder Megan Rapinoe in Auckland, Twitter went wild.
Aussie writer Sam Lewis had already seen the signs back in October when Tazuni was announced to the world.
also have we agreed that Tazuni is queer based entirely on that rad haircut yet? yep? cool, it's canon now.— Samantha Lewis (@battledinosaur) October 19, 2022
2. Some players will always find a way to let their true colors shine through.
How can you find that rainbow connection with fans when wearing a Pride armband is forbidden?
Thembi Kgatlana, the last-gasp goal hero of South Africa’s historic win over Italy, incorporated the rainbow into her hairstyle and made headlines globally.
Ali Riley’s allyship was evident on match-day one when she held her hands to her face in an interview after New Zealand upset Norway thanks to a goal from out gay striker Hannah Wilkinson.
Pictures of Riley’s nails, painted in Progress Pride colors, then went viral. After the Football Ferns bowed out, she spoke to Just Women’s Sports and shared an uplifting story about the effect of this visibility on a young girl in Auckland who was receiving treatment following a suicide attempt.
3. Quinn’s quiet dignity stands in stark contrast to the noise that surrounds them.
More than half of the participating 32 teams failed to score in their first game at the tournament, including both Canada and Nigeria in a forgettable stalemate in Melbourne.
Making LGBTQ history in that game as the World Cup’s first out transgender and non-binary player was Quinn. They were among the better players on show in both of Canada’s first two Group B games before it all went wrong for the team against Australia.
As sports media outlets quite rightly reported Quinn’s appearance as a notable milestone, outrage over their participation was being willfully manufactured elsewhere by the likes of Piers Morgan and stirred up on social media.
It was sad to see that but Quinn will always command the utmost respect from those that matter. “We joke that we don’t deserve Quinn,” said Canada legend Christine Sinclair. “They’re that good of a person.”
4. Reporters who put LGBTQ players at risk will become the story instead.
Morocco were gearing up to face Germany when a BBC World Service reporter tried to quiz Ghizlane Chebbak on gay representation within their squad at a pre-match press conference.
After a FIFA media officer intervened to halt the line of questioning, he demanded the Moroccan captain be allowed to answer - but was shut down again.
If the reporter had hoped to highlight the human rights struggles in one of the four participating nations where homosexuality is still illegal, he managed only to draw attention to himself and his dangerous insensitivity.
The exchange was picked up around the world and the BBC later conceded that the question was “inappropriate”.
Morocco captain Ghizlane Chebbak’s almost in disbelief reaction to the question, says it all.— SHE scores bangers (@SHEscoresbanger) July 24, 2023
A completely unethical out of line question that poses safety concerns to the players he asking to be named.
Bizarre push followed.
5. Younger players seem more relaxed about gradually letting fans into their lives.
The original iteration of Outsports’ much-shared article about LGBTQ representation at the World Cup went live when all the squads were finalized. For obvious reasons, checks are undertaken with enormous care before publishing and Colombia’s Linda Caicedo wasn’t included on the list at first.
After the teenager celebrated her tremendous goal against Germany with a love-heart gesture, it was widely reported that she was sending a message to her girlfriend.
There wasn’t much social media sleuthing required. Caicedo wrote ‘los amo’ and used the emoji version of the same gesture in a comment on an Instagram pic of her girlfriend (holding her very cute dog) wearing a replica Colombia ‘18’ shirt.
The final count on the Outsports article was 96 players, with Caicedo among them.
Seeing younger LGBTQ players growing into their visibility is very encouraging indeed. Love always wins.
6. FIFA’s President thinks equality issues are “battles” - and that some shouldn’t be fought in football.
After jetting around the South Pacific for much of the tournament, Gianni Infantino appeared in front of the media again at a convention on the eve of the final and managed to annoy everyone.
The FIFA President delivered a patronizing address to “all the women”, saying it was in their power to “convince” men of the need to take action and make change on equality. There had been such optimism in the room until Infantino opened his mouth.
His advice to “pick the right battles” felt like a sly dig. What did players have to fight FIFA about before the World Cup? Well, there was the request to wear Pride rainbow armbands (denied) and there was also the pushback against Visit Saudi sponsorship (FIFA reluctantly dropped them).
You couldn’t help but think that these were two unspoken examples of causes seen to be ‘wrong’ in Infantino’s myopic view.
7. Images of queer love and LGBTQ families go a long way at a World Cup.
During the 2019 tournament in France, a photo of Sweden’s Magdalena Eriksson kissing partner Pernille Harder was widely shared and celebrated on social media.
There were similar moments of intimacy in Australia, such as between Sam Kerr and girlfriend Kristie Mewis, and for champions Spain, between Alba Redondo and Cristina Monleón, and Irene Paredes and Lucia Ybarra.
These vignettes will have meant a lot to lesbian fans in particular, and even more so in parts of the world where such openness cannot occur.
Also for the Matildas, we saw Katrina Gorry with daughter Harper doing a lap of honour on the pitch, and teammate Tameka Yallop and her wife Kirsty - the former New Zealand international - with their daughter Harley. It was all very wholesome.
Those who are drawn to drama were catered for too, by a love triangle between Ireland duo Katie McCabe and Ruesha Littlejohn, and Australia’s Caitlin Foord (a club team-mate of McCabe’s at Arsenal).
Just before the tournament, McCabe revealed her long-term relationship with Littlejohn was over, and when the latter snubbed Foord in the pre-match handshakes on opening night before a finger-jabbing gesture later on, the discourse went off.
The Irish Examiner said scrutiny of Littlejohn’s antics was ‘fair game’ and who are we to argue?
8. Having so many out storytellers helps us get newly told narratives.
Part of the fun of World Cups is the history lessons - going back through archive footage, talking to retired players, and hearing about how the game has evolved.
We stand on the shoulders of all those who created inclusive cultures, reflected in content like Sam Lewis’s article for ABC about Australia players’ ‘infamous’ nude calendar from nearly 25 years ago.
It was an idea to raise funds and the profile of the Matildas. Alison Forman and her then-partner Sharon Black posed together for one of the photos. “That was boundary-pushing,” said Maria Berry, VP of the Australian Women’s Soccer Association.
Before the tournament, Lewis joined a Football v Homophobia Podcast chat about queer WWC history with fellow journalists Sophie Lawson (ESPN), Júlia Belas (The Guardian) and Poletti, all of whom were out at the World Cup.
Aussie academics Lee Wallace and Victoria Rawlings wrote about the ‘queer joy of watching the Matildas’, a Washington Post article by Frances Vinall was headlined “the gayest World Cup ever” while our own Shelby Weldon produced a gay girl’s guide to the tournament.
And what about the TikTokkers? The bio of Jackie J (@jcubedhax) says she has “perfect gaydar” and she unpacked pretty much every lesbian subplot she could find. She even got a mention from Tobin ‘Where are the gays?’ Heath on the former USA star’s RE-CAP Show - Jackie J shared it with the caption “BEST DAY OF MY LIFE”.
In short, people were looking at this World Cup through a queer lens much more than four years ago, and that’s welcome.
9. When LGBTQ legends bow out, our community needs to celebrate them.
Two of the World Cup’s all-time greats - Megan Rapinoe and Marta - said their farewells to international football after shock exits for their teams.
They are very different personalities but as previous Golden Ball and Golden Boot winners, with all they have achieved in the game, they both merit respect and enormous gratitude.
Instead, Rapinoe received a backlash from some conservatives that reveled in its levels of vitriol. Amid that, however, Outsports’ Ken Schultz wrote how “transcendent moments are easy to find” when you look back on her career.
Rapinoe has given so much while out on the pitch and gone above and beyond for so many other people off it. Any soccer hall of fame should have her and Marta in prime positions.
10. While this World Cup has been super gay, Spain’s win will make our memories of it… complicated.
You’ve just lifted the World Cup trophy, you’re dancing with joy alongside your teammates, it’s one of the happiest days of your life. But there’s also the fact that a senior official has just grabbed your head and planted a kiss directly on your lips during the medal presentations.
“I did not enjoy that,” Jenni Hermoso told a Spanish TV network when asked what she made of Luis Rubiales’s unsolicited smacker.
No woman should be subjected to such indignity, and that's before you even consider that several members of the champions’ squad are publicly out.
The Spanish FA president later issued a statement expressing “regret” and blaming cultural misunderstandings. In a way, it typified a culture under Jorge Vilda in which players have attempted to raise concerns about inappropriateness but have then been ostracized, ignored or seemingly silenced.
A tweet from the official team account on Sunday showing a picture of the head coach kissing the trophy proclaimed ‘VILDA IN’. It infuriated fans who see him not as a galvanizing force but as a demoralizing cause of discomfort among members of his squad.
It was far from a love-in in the winners’ circle. But looking back on the last month in Australia and New Zealand, we can take a more romantic view.
From the marvelous Matildas who did the Aussies proud to the carnival atmosphere created by Colombia fans, through great goals, rainbow lights and countless memes, this was a liberating World Cup that often felt alternative and had admirers everywhere.
We don’t yet know where the 2027 tournament will be held - Brazil and South Africa are vying with joint bidders USA and Mexico, and Germany, Holland and Belgium - but it has a lot to live up to.