MUMBAI: David Beckham says England's triumph in the Women's European Championship last year has inspired a new generation of girls in the country to take up sports and his own daughter is one of them.
On an unforgettable day for England, the hosts lifted the trophy last year in front of a sell-out crowd at Wembley Stadium, the 87,192 attendance a record for a UEFA tournament, men's or women's.
"The progression that the women's football game has had in England specifically has been incredible," Beckham told Reuters today. "We have seen what that has done. I've seen what it's done for my daughter.
"My daughter was turning around during the Euros and saying, 'daddy, will you take me to one of these games because I'm looking up to these players and I'm looking up for us to win the Euros'. And thankfully we did.
"We won the Euros in our own stadium, in our own country and then it's a ripple effect. It inspires the next generation of wannabe footballers and that's important."
This year's Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, expanded for the first time from 24 to 32 teams, had record crowds and generated more than us$570 million (RM2.6 billion) in revenue.
Global governing body Fifa also increased the total prize purse for the ninth edition of the tournament to US$152 million - although this is still a long way off the US$440 million the men had in Qatar last year.
Beckham, who travelled to India this week as UNICEF's goodwill ambassador, said there was no reason why the women's game could not be as big as the men's going forward.
"I've seen that growth and that can happen all over the world. It just needs people to support that, believe in that, believe in children's rights and gender equality and that is the most important thing that they need to focus on," the 48-year-old said.
"I've seen from watching England women's team play 10 years ago in front of probably 2,000 fans to now a sold out stadium at Wembley. And every game that is being played in the women's league now, every stadium is sold out."
Mental health was a prominent subject of the recent four-part Beckham documentary on Netflix with the former Manchester United player detailing the abuse he suffered after his infamous red card during the 1998 World Cup made him perhaps the most hated man in England.
"I like where we are now because people are able to talk about their mental health," he said.
"When I was growing up in Manchester and playing for Manchester United, it wasn't talked about and there's certain players that went through a lot of things at a very young age."
Beckham also joined former India cricket great Sachin Tendulkar at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium for the cricket World Cup semi-final between the hosts and New Zealand as part of a tie-up between UNICEF and the International Cricket Council.
With the population of children in India – about 460 million – the highest in the world, Beckham said UNICEF's partnership was an important one, with cricket by far the most popular sport in the South Asian country.
"When you talk about the ICC and when you talk about partners and when you talk about a game like cricket, that is as big as it is here in India, it can make a difference," Beckham said.
"Because people listen... to one of the biggest cricket players in India coming out and saying 'we need gender equality, we need children's rights'. People listen." --Reuters