FIFA’s First International Women’s Tournaments

This week at the National Football Museum we’ve been discovering items from the earliest FIFA sanctioned international women’s tournaments.

1988 FIFA tournament medal

The tournament in 1988 was unlike most FIFA tournaments as it was an invitational tournament that was used as a tool to gauge the interest in women’s football. Hosted in China, 12 teams were invited to take part: China, Canada, Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Norway, Thailand, Australia, Brazil, USA, Japan, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia. Norway triumphed in the final against Sweden 1-0. The main objective of the tournament was achieved as its success convinced FIFA that a women’s world championship was feasible.

1991 world cup ticket

These world cup tickets from 1991 are a long way from the modern barcoded tickets we use today at many stadiums, they reflect just how much women’s football has moved on from the 1991 tournament. After making a success of the first FIFA tournament China was again chosen as the host. If you look at the official FIFA history of this tournament you will see that they refer to it as the first FIFA Women’s World Cup. However, FIFA were reluctant to give the tournament full world cup billing. The tournament was instead given another name, the 1st FIFA World Championship for Women’s Football for the M&M’s Cup. This name came from the tournament’s main sponsor Mars and FIFA’s unwillingness to tie the tournament too closely to the men’s tournament.

FIFA originally considered using a smaller ball for the women’s tournament but ultimately decided against doing so. One thing they did insist upon was limiting matches were to 80 minutes. April Heinreich, one of the stars of the USA’s championship winning squad, commented that ‘they were afraid our ovaries were going to fall out if we played 90.’ Clearly this shows that the players within the tournament were conscious that FIFA wasn’t yet fully ready to commit to women’s football.

1995 world cup medal

Just as the 1991 tournament had built on the success of the 1988 tournament before it, the 1995 contest built upon the 1991 tournament and was officially called the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The tournament was held in Sweden – this was the first time that a FIFA women’s tournament had been held outside of China. This tournament was also the last tournament to use the M&M’s trophy, before an official trophy was commissioned by FIFA for the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The matches also took place over 90 minutes bringing the women’s game in line with the men’s.

Were you involved in these tournaments? Did you take part as an organiser or competitor? Do you have any stories that you would like to share with us? We need your help to uncover the full hidden history of women’s football, so please go to our contact page and tell us about your memories or send us your pictures.


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