Women’s World Cup An Opportunity To Shed The Endless Comparisons
June 5, 2019
The Women’s World Cup is a chance for the sport to establish itself without need to compare itself to the men’s game, but there is an opportunity to embrace everything that is great about the men’s tournament, to build on its growing popularity. The tournament is the best chance yet for the sport to assert its place in the national – and indeed the international – conscience.
In Russia last year, the Men’s World Cup was a chance to skip the nightmarish obsession that comes with turning every detail into a drama. No longer did anyone spend seventeen paragraphs wondering what Paul Pogba’s latest post-match guff meant for his future at Manchester United. Instead, there was time to analyse his performance, admire his ridiculous passing range, and move onto the next game. When there are so many matches to get through, you can simply enjoy the game for what it is – a spectacle, and celebrate it for the talent and teamwork without the manufactured drama that accompanies club football. This is what makes World Cups so great.
A lot of wasted words have been spilled on women’s football in the past year, fighting to deny its relevance. Despite this, there has been an increased awareness of the sport, and it garners coverage on mainstream websites to the extent that it no longer looks out of place. Sponsorship money is being thrown at the cause as companies realise that there is moral capital to be made, however plainly jarring that concept might be from an ethical point of view.
Because of that money, there is a problem in English women’s football that is difficult to confront. The idea that women’s football should ultimately be equally funded and with as many resources as the men’s game is a logical one. Sport, like the workplace and the rest of society, should be inclusive, and so parity is necessary.
The problem is that parity on financial terms comes with its own burden. The best funded clubs have the best players, and money is able to destroy the Corinthian spirit as swiftly as any other human invention. Manchester City have given their women’s team huge resources, which is a credit to them, but at the same time, that deadens the true spirit of competition, just as it has in the men’s game. There is a chance to make the game of football itself better, to make it sui generis.
Manchester United’s catch-up in the league is stark, but capital is accumulating at the top of the game, raising the standards but becoming exclusionary in an old-fashioned way. The very richest clubs win.
That is of course also true for countries, where demographics combine with resources to generally rank the teams. In the United States they have seen the women’s game flourish, and they are the richest country in the world, so they have both the talent pool and the resources to get closer to the limits of their potential than almost anywhere else.
The same goes for the English team, and the French, and indeed most of the Western nations who are attending the Women’s World Cup. The advantages possessed by some teams are clear, so there is a double-edged sword here – to celebrate progress means we are at risk of ignoring further progress to be made.
The best thing for the tournament would be for an open and a dramatic tournament. Upsets from the less favoured nations would extinguish complacency, and focus the pre-match favourites on raising the bar yet further, speeding up already remarkable progress. Success for less fancied nations would spread interest and participation in places where more women could take part in the game, and attract a new demand and audience for the sport.
The problems and hopes of the women’s game are, impressively, their own. This is its own sport and it is attracting its own audience. The Women’s World Cup is a sporting event in its own right. But with the context set out, perhaps the competition can take that one thing from the men’s tournament. For a few weeks, instead of analysing context and circumstance every two seconds, to legislate and dissect, this is a rare opportunity to set aside weeks of a summer and embrace the best thing in the world – 90 minutes of football, one match at a time, again and again and again.