Sam Stewart – Sports Editor
With the Women’s World Cup now behind us, it’s time for the footballing world to evaluate just how far the women’s game has come and what we can expect next. This summer, for the second time in 370 days, England reached a World Cup semi-final. In a tightly contested match, England pushed the legendary USA side to lengths that they have rarely encountered in past tournaments, but the ‘Lionesses’ failed to show the ruthlessness of true winners. However, the marked improvements provide hope for English football, and, more importantly, hope for women’s football.
In 1921 women were banned from using FA affiliated pitches because, “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” This meant that it wasn’t until 1991 that the Women’s Football Association (WFA) formed a national league. Despite the setback, the women’s game is now rapidly expanding in terms of both viewing figures and media attention. This, with an influx of financial support on the horizon, bodes well for the future of the women’s game.
Obviously, the history of the men’s game and it’s continuous exposure has caused the sport to become embedded within the culture of the country. Because of this, the viewership has expanded, thus the revenue has also done so. This creates more money to be pumped into the sport and aids the continued development. I have no doubt that the women’s game will continue to grow in terms of both its exposure and its financial gain: in fact, disillusionment in the men’s game due to the enormity of the finances may even push viewership towards the more honest and football-focused nature of the women’s game.
There is one thing that we must, however, be careful of. We should not shy away from criticising the women’s game and individual performances. At the end of the day, this is professional and competitive sport and this means that the paying viewers have every right to criticise competitors for the way in which they perform; regardless of the sport and regardless of the gender. Sky News’ sports correspondent, Martha Kelner, covered the WWC and often wrote about the sexist undertone to many of the comments directed towards the quality of play throughout the tournament. There is no doubt that many people, set in their stubborn ways, view the rise of women’s football as a threat to the men’s game – and that this is fuelled by deep-rooted, backward-looking sexist beliefs. However, it is too far to say that negative comments on female performances is sexist. In fact, it’s sexist to not criticise them, just because of their gender. We must address the question ‘why are we criticising them?’, not just say that we ought to shelter them from the trappings that any professional sportsperson must endure. We must remember that reverse discrimination is not the solution to address issues of discrimination.
Sport is, and has long since been, a vehicle in which all people can come together; it is a unifying force. And because football is the most widely watched sport, it has the greatest influence on society. This is why women’s football can be such a positive influence to our society. By showing women in a positive light in the media (as talented footballers; not merely defined by stereotype), it can alter and improve our perception of the equality between the genders. Football and sport ought to be all-inclusive. We should appreciate that the standards shown are not equal (and may perhaps remain so), yet we must not allow this to detract from our appreciation of the sport and the good that it can do. Football is football; appreciate it.