Women's association football, usually known as women's football or women's soccer, is the most prominent team sport played by women around the globe. It is played at the professional level in numerous countries throughout the world and 176 national teams participate internationally.|
Association football, the modern game, also has documented early involvement of women. In Europe, it is possible that 12th-century French women played football as part of that era's folk games. An annual competition in Mid-Lothian, Scotland during the 1790s is reported, too. In 1863, football governing bodies introduced standardized rules to prohibit violence on the pitch, making it more socially acceptable for women to play.
Women's football became popular on a large scale at the time of the First World War, when employment in heavy industry spurred the growth of the game, much as it had done for men fifty years earlier. A team from England played a team from Ireland on Boxing Day 1917 in front of a crowd of 20,000 spectators. The most successful team of the era was Dick, Kerr's Ladies of Preston, England. The team played in the first women's international matches in 1920, against a team from Paris, France, in April, and also made up most of the England team against a Scottish Ladies XI in 1920, winning 22-0.
The English Women's FA was formed in 1969 (as a result of the increased interest generated by the 1966 World Cup), and the FA's ban on matches being played on members' grounds was finally lifted in 1971. In the same year, UEFA recommended that the women's game should be taken under the control of the national associations in each country.
However, as in numerous other sports, women's pay and opportunities are much lower in comparison with professional male football players. Major league and international women's football have far less television and media coverage than the men's equivalent. The popularity and participation in women's football continues to grow.
The first Women's World Cup was held in the People's Republic of China, in November 1991, and was won by the United States (USWNT). The third Cup, held in the United States in June and July 1999, drew worldwide television interest and a final in front of a record-setting 90,000+ Pasadena crowd, where the United States won 5–4 on penalty kicks against China. The US are the reigning champions, having won in Canada in 2015, and in France, in 2019.
In 2004, FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested that women footballers should "wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts... to create a more female aesthetic" and attract more male fans. His comment was criticized as sexist by numerous people involved with women's football and several media outlets worldwide.
In June 2011, Iran forfeited an Olympic qualification match in Jordan, after trying to take to the field in hijabs and full body suits. FIFA awarded a default 3–0 win to Jordan, explaining that the Iranian kits were "an infringement of the Laws of the Game", due to safety concerns. The decision provoked strong criticism from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while Iranian officials alleged that the actions of the Bahraini match delegate had been politically motivated. In July 2012, FIFA approved the wearing of hijab in future matches.