By any and every metric the Women’s World Cup of 2019 has been a resounding success.
Fans have flocked in a friendly fashion to the stadia to watch mostly entertaining games with barely a dour draw in sight. The standard of football on display has been excellent even if Danny the absolute lad thinks that a corner should have been taken better and mocks it on Twitter (and no Danny, you won’t get a link here: you’ve had quite enough attention for one lifetime and besides, your homework is due).
The promotion of the sport too has been prosperous and this is important for a game now far beyond its infancy that is seeking another level entirely of acceptance and interest. Television viewing figures have been enormously high in the UK and the same phenomena has occurred in Holland and Italy also. In France the hosts have become thoroughly smitten with the tournament and, with record audiences tuning in for every match and a million tickets sold across the competition, major sponsors such as Coca Cola have been left happy also. Sadly this matters.
So it can safely be said that by any and every metric the Women’s World Cup of 2019 has been a resounding success.
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Yet, all the same, there has been a bugbear that has persisted throughout, for this particular writer at least and that is a widespread insistence of making comparisons between the men’s game and the women’s equivalent. Actually no, that’s not quite right. Comparisons are understandable and indeed inevitable. It’s the type of comparisons being made that annoys. People are getting it all wrong.
For years this has been the case. Throughout the last Women’s World Cup in Canada and two years’ later at the Euros as England reached the semi-final in each, it was posited time and again that the women’s game was quite patently purer – thus better – than the male version. There was very little evidence of diving. There was scant time-wasting or feigning of injury. Instead, the games were played out in a Corinthian spirit with a welcome absence of ego, entitlement or attitude.
All of which is true by the way, and all of which should be celebrated and embraced. But when I saw these virtues being endlessly trumpeted again this summer I began to feel a little uneasy. It all began to feel a little…pious. A touch ‘Mary Poppins’.
How refreshing is Women’s football? No egos, diving about & cheating, no abusing each other or officials. Just heads down and playing the game!! Don’t change!! Men watch and learn!!
— Robert K Hirst (@RobertKHirst1) June 27, 2019
Give me the women's game anytime. Proper football. No diving, play acting or general time-wasting. The ladies show us how it should be done
— Colin Payn (@ColinPayn) June 27, 2019
Still though I didn’t realise why it bothered me. After all, where’s the harm in acknowledging a sport’s plus points? And why not take a dig at the men’s game in the process? It’s big and ugly enough to take it.
But then the USWNT were pitted against England in the latter’s third consecutive semi-final in a major competition and it all fell into place. Aficionados of the women’s game should not solely rejoice in the differences between the two disciplines. To do so is counter-productive when the end-game is to one day equal it in scale and popularity. It should rejoice too in its similarities.
Alas, the very opposite has played out.
By virtue of being ultra-professional the USA players – who let’s not forget have won three World Cups and four Olympic golds in the modern era – were damned by the British press and public alike for being ‘arrogant’. “We are the team the French public want to win,” declared Phil Neville intimating at the USWNT’s unpopularity while the Daily Mail – who else? – ran with a provocative two-page splash included in the tweet below.
Greetings from London, where I am injecting this into my veins. pic.twitter.com/ULthPGTfEC
— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) July 1, 2019
The American’s crimes? Well, there was their celebrating of all thirteen goals against Thailand. Elsewhere U.S. veteran Ali Kreiger twice declared that the Americans “are the first and second best teams in the world.” And then later came Alex Morgan’s tea-sipping goal celebration.
More so, well, it’s their demeanour isn’t it: ultra-confident and strutting around like….like….the professional footballers they actually are.
Because here’s the thing: everything that the USWNT have been lambasted for these past couple of weeks – from their ‘attitude’ to their cast-iron belief in themselves to their celebration of themselves – these are exactly the traits we associate with elite winners within the men’s game. Only there they are ‘legends’, the surly, cocky Ronaldo and the rest of them; they are almost expected to act in such a way; in fact they are lauded for it.
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Alex Morgan summed up the skewed logic and open hypocrisy perfectly when she said this week – “I feel that there is some sort of double standard for females in sports, to feel like we have to be humble in our successes and have to celebrate, but not too much or in a limited fashion. You see men celebrating all over the world in big tournaments, grabbing their sacks or whatever it is. And when I look at sipping a cup of tea, I am a little taken aback by the criticism.”
Regardless, the USWNT will go into this weekend’s final as villains and that’s fine I suppose because every sport needs a villain. Everyone likes someone to boo.
It’s just a shame that the team that has elevated the women’s game closest to the mainstream – and all while retaining the proud, unique identity of what make’s women’s football so special – has been so unfairly chosen for this role.