Even if you’re not paying attention to this year’s Women’s World Cup, you’ve probably heard the story of how the U.S. Women’s team utterly thrashed Thailand 13-0. It was a score line that broke nearly every international record for goals scored in a single game, for both men and women.
Aside from that lopsided score line, the biggest conversation point was the way the U.S. women celebrated every goal. Even as they scored goals 10, 11 and 12, the players celebrated each as if it was a game clincher. These celebrations sent many pundits – male pundits in particular – to clutch their pearls and tsk-tsk at what they said was a show of classlessness.
But I’m bringing up this contest not to go down the already well-worn path of goal celebration etiquette, but to note the remarkable accomplishments of the Thai team, which is on this world stage thanks to the grit and determination of the players and the contribution of a patron who is showing the world right now how much investment means for women’s participation in sports.
That patron is a 53-year-old insurance magnate named Nualphan Lamsam, who is known as Madam Pang. When Thailand scored its only goal of the tournament, a 91st-minute long-range shot from forward Kanjana Sungngoen in a 5-1 loss to Sweden, cameras panned to the Thai bench, where an emotional Lamsam leapt up to embrace coach Nuengruethai Sathongwie.
Lamsam has spent a great deal of her own money and time for the benefit of the Thai women’s team. She has put the players on the payroll of her insurance company, employing them as sales associates in the off-season and providing them with a salary so they can train. Lamsam doubled the players’ bonuses when they qualified for the World Cup.
Even in the United States, where Title IX explicitly states that no person shall be excluded from participation in any education-related activity, including team sports based on gender, investment in professional and international women’s sports is woefully behind where it should be. In fact, the U.S. Women’s National Team’s players are suing the U.S. Soccer Federation to be paid equal to their much less successful counterparts on the Men’s National Team.
Lamsam’s patronage and commitment to the Thai women’s team is not only a really inspiring story; it’s a testament to how important investment is to make sure women have the same opportunities as the men. If not for that investment, the Thai women would likely have had no time to train or facilities in which to do so. They certainly would not have qualified for this World Cup.
Here in Chestnut Hill, the same sort of investment is at work in the new professional women’s basketball team, the Philadelphia Reign, playing at Chestnut Hill College. The owner, Tamika Milburn, is more than just a businesswoman. She believes in the investment as a way to provide opportunities to women in sport.
Most important, though, is that this patronage is not just charity. These athletes are compelling. As the Women’s World Cup enters the knockout stage, there are not likely to be any more 13-0 drubbings. Do yourself a favor and watch.