Women’s World Cup – The story so far – by Machel St Patrick Hewitt

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup – The Story so far

There have been very few occasions in my life that football has made me genuinely overcome with emotion, but seeing the Reggae Girlz line up for the national anthem in their World Cup opener against Brazil bought a genuine tear to the eye.

A valiant performance by the Reggae Girlz saw them lose 3-0 to 10th ranked Brazil  (CaribbeanNationalWeekly.Com)

World Cups are like Hollywood scripts, name a World Cup and provided you are an avid football fan there is always a significant moment or incident you can reference. That I can say this about a Women’s World Cup is testament to the current profile the Women’s game holds in the collective football consciousness.

The Reggae Girlz story has got plenty of airplay around the world, a story of true perseverance, a team that didn’t even exist five years ago having been disbanded by the JFF (Jamaica Football Federation) due to funding issues. However led by the tireless work of Bob Marley’s daughter Cedella, the Reggae Girlz have had to literally fund-raise their way from oblivion through World Cup qualifiers to make history as the first ever Caribbean nation to qualify for a Women’s World Cup.

Yet for every feel good story about the Women’s World Cup the constant sense that Women’s football must still prove its worth remains an unsavoury backdrop to proceedings. For all the positive news of record breaking viewing figures, 6.1 million tuned in to see the England Lionesses beat Scotland 2-1, a cursory look at social media finds voices eager to badmouth the quality of the spectacle on show.

Nikita Paris gave England the lead from the penalty spot in a tense opening game vs Scotland (Skysports.com)

You don’t have to search too hard to find persistent references as to how the women’s game is inferior to the men’s game and how demands for better/equal pay are laughable. One wonders why some refuse to look at the women’s game in and of itself and on its own merits.

After all the men’s game is far from some utopia of football. To compare the women’s game to the men’s game is to assume the men’s game is never dreadful.

Yet for all the bluster about the supposed ‘inferior’ product the biggest issue for the Women’s World Cup is actually the level of financial disparity it has highlighted to a global audience. The gap between the top level of the Women’s game and the weakest teams at the World Cup (Thailand, Jamaica etc) is literally between well paid (relatively speaking) professionals vs amateurs with no support from their football federations. Consequently mismatches to your casual observer look farcical and not worthy of taking seriously see: USA 13-0 Thailand.

A survey of the pay per annum of 108 players at the World Cup, carried out by https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/07/sports/soccer/world-cup-survey.html

A survey of the pay per annum of 108 players at the World Cup, carried out by https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/07/sports/soccer/world-cup-survey.html

In this sense, Women’s football still has a long way to go in its bid to be taken seriously on a global level. Even now no one knows what will become of the Reggae Girlz following the World Cup as the JFF have made no commitments to set aside money for the development or professionalization of the game following the World Cup Finals.

If FIFA, and respective football federations around the world, are unwilling to grow the Women’s game globally then like the  Cricket World Cup it will simply serve to be a game for the haves of Women’s football and not have nots. However, whilst those are all important issues for the future of the Women’s game here are the key talking points if you’ve missed a lot of the World Cup thus far.

The Good

France buoyed by the bulk of the Lyon Women Champions League winning squad have looked frightening going forward. Home advantage and fervent crowds see them riding a wave that seems hard to stop unless they run into USA. Speaking of the crowds, no aggro in the stands and nice nationalism make a welcome sight. There is no need for segregation and already eight of the games have broken the 20,000 attendance mark.

The individual talent on show, from Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands), Wendi Renard (France), Khadija Shaw (Jamaica) to Christiane Endler (Chile). I dare any football fan to watch these players and claim they are not seriously talented. It’s been a real joy to see them strut their stuff.

As a father to a 10 month old daughter being able to watch, with her, a Women’s World Cup on primetime TV and see her grow up with this normalised is a powerful thing. These women are inspiring the next generation and through that comes wider participation and opportunity over time. So long as my daughter Aurora chooses to represent Jamaica internationally when her time comes I’ll look back on 2019 as the moment Women’s football really broke through.

Absolutely no surprise to see Jamaican secure a move to Bordeaux in the French D1 Feminine

The Bad

As alluded to earlier a few games have either been a complete mismatch or very low in quality. No matter the level of competition nobody wants to see any game end 13-0. It’s counterproductive and does nothing for the game.

Similarly, some of the games have lacked quality and have been very tiresome on the eye, one such example being South Africa v China which was a dreadful spectacle. However this shouldn’t be seen as an indictment on the women’s game as to assume low quality is somehow unqiue to the Women’s game is a myopic viewpoint at best.

The Ugly

VAR. When VAR was first introduced I was one of its biggest fans. A system that I thought would be used to eradicate clear and obvious errors has slowly become one that merely muddies the water further. I maintain that if one continues to show most incidents in slow motion replay, a case can be argued to overturn almost every decision. No more was this evident than in the France v Norway match for the match winning penalty. A system that should have brought in consistency only seems to have made referees second guess themselves and make clear and obvious howlers.

The referees in the Women’s World Cup appear to be one year behind where we find ourselves in the men’s game in so much as some referees now have the guts to stand by their original decision.

The commentators on the BBC. I have to assume a directive has been given to sell the women’s game as much as they can as there can be no excuse for some of the hyperbolic language used to describe basic football. Women’s football doesn’t need to be patronised, call the game as it is on its own merits. If the commentators tell me they aren’t patronising the women then it’s the audience.  You don’t win over a football audience by lying about something we can clearly see with our own eyes.  It’s not authentic and it damages the image of a game that is trying to grow organically.

The rest of the tournament – What’s next?

With the World Cup final due to take place on 7th July at the Stade De Lyon, there is still plenty of football to come and as the weaker teams have got knocked out the quality of the knock out rounds will definitely be worth a watch. There doesn’t seem to be an awful lot separating the top five teams.

Having seen all teams play at least twice it seems to me that the winner of the tournament will come from France or USA with the Netherlands, Germany or Canada the dark horses.

England expects as we always do but based on the showings against Scotland and Argentina, I find it hard to believe England have that extra bit of quality or guile that will matter in a crunch knockout game. That said nothing will do the profile of the game over here any better than to see England take it as deep as they can and maybe even better the 2015 semi final showing.

If you haven’t made it your mission to check out any of the World Cup so far, I recommend you do so. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Written by Machel St Patrick Hewitt

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