The sun is shining and it’s Wimbledon time again. Or as it’s otherwise known… the time of year when football withdrawal really kicks in!
There’s plenty to love about Wimbledon, of course, but one of the biggest things is the fact that women are paid as much as men . In prize money at least, perhaps not sponsorship deals. But at least there’s progress.
Part of that is probably because of how impressive women like the Williams sisters or Caroline Wozniacki are. Part of it might be because of how exciting the games are anyway. Football can learn a thing or two from tennis.
The Copa America is a wonderful competition, but without home interest it gets discarded, while the Under 21s competition also suffers, particularly given how poor the Three Lions were in the Czech Republic.
But the England women’s team are in the semi-final of the World Cup. So the Women’s World Cup is rightfully capturing the hearts of the nation. At least those who are willing to stay up to watch it.
As an Irishman living in London, I know that the English public has trouble relating to sporting events without having an emotional buy in. As an Irishman, if I were bound to such techniques to get up for a sporting event I could never watch a World Cup!
But the fact that England’s women are doing so well is a great thing for the women’s game. Not just in England, or even in Britain, but all over the World. So to find myself cheering on England is a strange sensation, but one that is definitely justified. The further England go, the better the quality of the game will get. That’s not just because the players will gain experience or get better or anything like that, it’s also because interest in the sport will grow and girls and young women will start to play football more. As such, money will pour into the clubs of the WSL.
And this is a great thing. Not just for football, but for society in general. The best young footballers – the boys – can dream of professional contracts, vast riches and fast cars. Young girls don’t have the same interests from a young age. It’s not because boys inherently love football and girls don’t, but there are so many other ways girls can dream of being successful. Even if they’re incredibly gifted at football, they may choose another career which is seen as more stereotypically suitable or perhaps even more desirable.
England winning the World Cup would go a long way towards convincing young girls that they can be successful at football. If England were to win it, treating the players as idols and giving them the same ovation that Premier League stars could be the kickstart that women’s football needs. It could prompt a surge in participation and drive up the quality, and improving the quality makes the sport better, as well as more marketable.
And so I come back to tennis. Some of the most famous sportswomen are tennis players, and partly this is because women’s tennis is so competitive. It’s similar in athletics, too, where the women’s events are competitive and fun to watch. When the sport is marketable the public takes an interest, and when the public takes an interest the game grows in so many different ways. It grows in stature and prestige, it grows in fame and it grows financially. It even grows in quality.
So old rivalries aside, I hope England can reach a final this week. A boost for the marketability of the women’s game in the same country as the most marketable league in the world is a big prize for the England women’s team. The lesson that football can learn from other sports, ironically, is a lesson in marketability. And if the English team does well, so will the sport.