Edmonton, Canada – The road to taking part in a World Cup is never likely to be an easy one.
But for female footballers, opposing teams and their fans can be among the smallest problems they face.
Discrimination is still an issue at all levels of the game.
Globally, just seven per cent of coaches are women. The number is higher in 2015 Women’s World Cup hosts Canada but women are still under-represented.
The experience of Alberta Soccer Association coach Mary Dyck at a recent course may help explain why.
“I walked into the room, and it was full of men,” she told Al Jazeera.
“I was the only woman there so that was intimidating. Then the coach started talking. He said, ‘we have to think of goal-keepers as women and the penalty area as the kitchen. And women and goalkeepers know exactly where they belong’.
“That was the start of my course.”
The turf-war that preceded this edition is also revealing.
A group of top female players threatened to sue FIFA, citing gender discrimination.
Men, they said, would never be asked to play a world cup on artificial pitches which, it was claimed, increases the risk of injury.
Women seeking to play on level playing field with men is nothing new.
In my own country England, the Football Association banned women from using any of their facilities in 1921.
Football was quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged, the FA had said at the time.
That ban was only lifted 50 years later.
The country now has a highly rated domestic league and national team but a survey last year revealed that two-thirds of women working in football had experienced sexism.
Paul Mortimer, who played the men’s game and coached the women’s game at the highest level in England, says female footballers are still being pushed away for old reasons.
The more role models we see, and the more diverse role models we see, the more likely younger girls are to take this up
“I know players who are at school and want to quit the game because they’re being abused at school,” Paul said.
“You know, because they’re better players than the boys, the boys will say, well, they must be gay then. That frightens some girls.”
One big step forward for women’s football came in 2014 when FIFA lifted its ban on playing in headscarves, a decision that opened up new opportunities for previously excluded players.
Rimla Ahktar of the Muslim Women Sport’s Foundation says the next step will come when players from that background breakthrough at an elite level.
“The more role models we see, and the more diverse role models we see, the more likely younger girls are to take this up,” Rimla, who also works with the English FA, said.
“They will start to see football as a potential career, be it as a player, coach, referee or within the administration.”
This is a World Cup with role models emerging from all corners of the globe.
Millions of television viewers are getting the chance to watch the players who couldn’t be stopped and who are now setting the example for the next generation to follow.