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A man’s game

What is it that the Obama family are watching so intently here in the residence of the White House?  Some international crisis unfolding? A session of the US Congress? The Superbowl? Would you believe me if I told you it’s a game of ‘sawccerr’? What about if I told you it was women’s football? Pull the other one, right?

No, really, it’s a game of women’s football – the Women’s World Cup final to be precise. The Obamas and an estimated 21.1 million other Americans (only a tad under 3 million less than the TV audience for game 6 of the NBA finals) witnessed one of the great upsets in World Cup history as the Japanese wore down the heavily favoured Americans to earn a gutsy fairy tale penalty shootout victory.

But it would be a mistake, albeit a common one, to take this sort of successful event as evidence of times-a-changing or ‘we’ve come a long way’ and certainly not equality achieved – job done – aren’t we jolly progressive old chaps?!?! No way. Not even close. It’s at best a wafer thin veneer.

“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?” – Sepp Blatter.

“When girls like football, I think it’s ok. But I think that the level of women’s football is too low to take it seriously.” – Andrey Arshavin

Then there is this train wreck…

I suspect the appallingly misogynist pundit (the one passing favourable judgement on the other appallingly misogynist pundit) who blames “loose women” for “attacking men” and supposedly trying to ruin a “man’s game” sees the offside rule somewhat like this:

Oh, and one other minor point about gender and the offside rule:

As if this crap is not bad enough, it’s unfortunately not the worst form of discrimination a female footballer must face. A few dinosaurs can be ignored even though they shouldn’t have to be. The worst form of discrimination is the kind that perpetuates itself. Women’s football faces a more difficult task than it should in lifting standards when women’s teams, in many cases, have to put up with practicing on poor pitches with low quality equipment. Women’s games are often scheduled on different days to other club games, robbing them of the atmosphere of a big game-day. Women play without ball boys/girls. They must put up with bathroom facilities set up only for men. Not only is this a barrier to improvement, but these handicaps in turn entrench the opinions of the patriarchy that the end product is inferior.

Despite these barriers, the women’s game has many great features. I can’t explain them much better than this:

One of the things people raise about women’s sport in general is strength. Yet ask practitioners of most sports and they will often tell you that strength is less important than technique. But if pace, skill and technique don’t do it for you, what about less diving, fewer tantrums, less writhing in pretend agony, less being driven by the almighty dollar, euro or pound.

So what can be done to start addressing the issues? My first thought is that greater participation in football ruling bodies would be a help. All boards at all levels should be compelled to have female voices on them advocating for and advising on the needs of women’s football. There are no women on the FIFA Executive Committee. Would Mr Blatter be as able to get away with his appalling behaviour if he had to answer for it at board level? No women on the board of the English FA, nor of Arsenal FC (a club with a very successful woman’s team) to offer an opinion on Arshavin’s misogyny, amongst more important matters. New Zealand Football has two women on its board – should this be celebrated? After all, women are 50% of the population. It’s a good start. But how do women fear on the boards of our clubs? Not great I suspect.

As for wider measures, the world could do much worse than to take note of this comprehensive report from the European Union on the matter.

Karl Marx said “social progress can be measured by the social position of the female sex”. Football, as a microcosm of society, can be measured the same way. As with wider society, there is still a long way to go.

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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