Over 45,000 fans loved the opening ceremony as France kicked off the event in style but will it be enough for the French public to overcome a reticence regarding the womens game?
The Parisian weather failed to dampen a colourful opening to the Womens World Cup on Friday, with the French musician Jain and nearly 300 performers delivering a message of empowerment to a sold-out Parc des Princes.
The 11-minute performance was laden with more political meaning than the average opening ceremony, which at most sporting events err towards fireworks and theatrics rather than pointed messages. But beginning with a video indicating footballs historically male focus and closing with artistic elements intended, in Fifas words, to echo light and female empowerment, it was immediately clear this World Cup would be no ordinary football tournament.
The highlight of the display saw 264 girls, dressed in the colours of the 24 competing nations, swamp the pitch. Their choreographed movements ended with sparks, a stadium-wide tifo and the girls forming the shape of the World Cup trophy.
Yet not everyone was able to enjoy Jains dulcet tones, with lines at entrance gates snaking around the stadium. Ultra-tight security every fan was individually searched and Fifas recent ticketing woes both contributed to lengthy delays, although the stadium was nearly full by the time France and South Korea kicked off.
The 45,261 fans produced a feelgood atmosphere, with large numbers of boys and girls evidently overjoyed to be cheering on their national team on home soil. It is inspiring for her to be able to watch her heroes play the sport she loves, one French father said of his young daughter.
South Korean fans may have been outnumbered but they certainly were not lacking in energy. Yeoibom from Jindo County in southern Korea committed to travelling to France after the Taegeuk Ladies qualified, and brought several flags with her for the occasion. I went to Russia last year to cheer on the men, so I thought I needed to do the same for the women, she said.
The South Korean expatriate community in France had also rallied for the occasion, holding a small march decked in traditional dress ahead of the match.
Ha-young from Changwon, now studying his doctorate in Paris, admitted to being a recent convert to womens football. While Ha-young was trying to make up for lost time, his enthusiasm was tested when Korea conceded within the first 10 minutes.
Although the packed stadium and its positive atmosphere bode well for the four weeks of football ahead, there were some lingering concerns about Fifa and the local organising committees commitment to lifting this tournament towards the status of its male counterpart.
Entering the stadium was just fantastic seeing so many thousands of passionate fans, said Maggie Murphy, the director of communications with sporting non-profit Equal Playing Field. But I was a disappointed at the absence of posters or marketing around the tournament. I arrived on Eurostar from London and was expecting to see promotional material everywhere I didnt.
Murphy had arrived at the match from the Womens Football Convention, a high-profile event headlined by the Fifa president, Gianni Infantino. The EPF co-founder said she thought her mixed emotions had been reflected at the convention.
It did a good job showcasing some of the exceptional grassroots womens football work going on against the odds. But there were lots of empty platitudes: its time for action, no more words, the time to act is now. I have heard that before last year, five years ago, 10 years ago. It has been time to act for 50 years.
That is the frustration felt by many about the state of womens football, something no aspirational opening ceremony videos or glossy dare to shine slogans will chance. The 2019 World Cup has been billed as the best yet, a breakthrough moment for the womens game. But will that be because of the efforts of Fifa and co, or in spite of them?
Patrice, a barman at the nearby brasserie Les Deux Stades, was hopeful of strong sales this month as the Parc des Princes hosts a further six matches. But he concurred that the atmosphere in Paris had been subdued in the leadup to the tournament, adding that womens football is not so popular in France. Might the World Cup change that? Maybe, he reflected. Lets hope!
The World Cup continues on Saturday. Heavyweights Germany take on China in Rennes, South Africa make their tournament debut against Spain in Le Havre and Norway meet Nigeria in Reims.