In June 1988, the Chinese province of Guangdong staged a landmark event: the International Women’s Football Tournament.
National teams from 12 countries took part, representing all six confederations. Among them was Australia, who beat Brazil 1-0 in their opening game. This shirt was worn in that match by Australian midfielder Moya Dodd, who is now a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee. It was her country’s debut at an international women’s event organised by FIFA.
Dodd’s team qualified for the tournament’s knockout stages, beating Thailand 3-0 before losing to eventual winners Norway on the way. In the quarter-finals, however, they lost 7-0 to host country China. Although today these games are officially classed as friendlies, the tournament paved the way for the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991.
"We were all very conscious that this was the first-ever FIFA tournament - the pilot for a possible Women's World Cup," Dodd told the museum.
"It was our country's FIFA debut, if you like. So there was a sense of making history, combined with the pressure to make the tournament itself a showcase for the women's game so that FIFA would formalise a Women's World Cup and give us regular, globally-recognised competitions, which we craved."
"It's my best memory in international football," said Dodd.
"On top of the football history that was made that day, the location was special for me. My mother was Australian-born Chinese with origins in that region, and that attracted attention from the locals. In the 80s, overseas Chinese were still something of a novelty and local paper described it as a "home-coming", even though I'd never been there before!"
The ground-breaking 1988 competition was also known as the FIFA Women’s Invitation Tournament. It took place after a speech by Norwegian delegate Ellen Wille at the 45th FIFA Congress in Mexico two years earlier. This was a significant moment in itself, as she was the first woman to address the delegates at a FIFA Congress.
Wille asked FIFA to do more to boost women’s football, and the tournament was organised as a result. Its primary goal – explicitly stated in the Executive Committee minutes – was to determine if the women’s game was ready for its own World Cup.
A crowd of 45,000 watched China and Canada play the opening game – and interest remained high throughout the tournament, with an average attendance of 20,000 per match. Among the spectators, providing an official stamp of approval, was FIFA President João Havelange. Norway beat Sweden 2-1 in the Final, with Brazil finishing third and China fourth.
An appetite for the women’s game was confirmed and the tournament was judged a success: 18 days later FIFA approved the launch of the Women’s World Cup.[QUOTE Person="The Manchester Guardian, 1895, on the first official women’s football match" Phrase="“When the novelty has worn off, I do not think women’s football will attract the crowds."]
A total of 30 million women and girls now play organised football around the world. A record 1.35 million fans attended matches at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. And female national teams are even present in EA Sports’ FIFA 16 video game for the first time. The women’s game is enjoying its most successful period to date.
“After decades of being banned in various parts of the world - including in Brazil, who were our opponents that day - the women's game had a lot of catching up to do,” said Dodd, who as a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee is working to boost the women's game all over the world.
“We still do, but it is amazing to see how far it has come since that first match against Brazil. If we can bring true gender equality to football, by ensuring accessibility at all ages, representation and fair resourcing, the sky's the limit for our game.”