The Olympics begin today. No it doesn’t, I hear you shouting at the screen, the ceremony doesn’t start until Friday. There’s a clock in Trafalgar Square telling us so. We’ve been brainwashed by the BBC’s coverage and constant unsubtle subliminal messages but believe me the Olympics do start today when the women’s Great Britain football team take on New Zealand at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff .
Now I’m sure that this match is taking place before the official start of the Olympics due to scheduling reasons but could there be a more demeaning reason for the women’s football starting before the hype really begins. Is women’s football unimportant in the sporting hierarchy?
The Olympics is the bastion of amateur athletics, or at least it used to be. With sponsorship and lottery grants, most Olympic sports have become professional or at least semi-professional. Olympic events have traditionally given the limelight to lesser known sports and given them the opportunity to shine. Some events are always going to be frowned upon as ‘sport’, synchronised swimming, BMXing and rhythmic gymnastics (or titting about with ribbons as a friend of mine refers to it), spring to mind.
The question has to be is women’s football still seen as a minority sport or is it just titting about with a football?
Exposure to the Women’s Game
There are arguments that the women’s game suffers from a lack of exposure. David James, former England goalkeeper, wrote an interesting article for The Guardian about this very subject. His conclusion was that exposure was less about television airtime and more about skin exposure. Sexy Photos + Football = More tickets sold to matches, an equation that the women’s German national team successfully used in the last women’s World Cup.
Sexy does sell and as a marketing tool it does have its place but the women’s game will never benefit from it because it will always be about smaller shorts (thanks for that suggestion Sepp) and not about whether our female footballers can actually play.
The question also arises about whether the men’s game is overexposed. Broadcast sport is so saturated with the men’s game that women’s football would have to be squeezed inbetween the Gillette adverts and Paul Merson’s indepth analysis. Take the Women’s FA Cup final last season. The transmission of the match was cut short so the build up to the League 1 play off could be aired. The biggest match in the women’s football season turned off for ‘chat’ about a third division match.
The problem that women’s football has is that there is no real fanbase. Football is a tribal sport that you are born into or that you have some affiliation with when you’re young. That’s what drives the passion for the men’s game. You don’t get that with the women’s football. If there isn’t an affiliation to a team or a club then you’re bound to be less passionate about the result and that’s why third division punditry will always take the lead.
Playing the Game
Many failings of the British game are blamed on the grassroots set up, for both men and women. I think this is more of a case for women’s football than for the men’s game. If I think back to my own school days and the standard of PE teaching, it wasn’t that girls were discouraged from playing football, which has often been sited as an underlying issue of the women’s game, it was that the girls really weren’t that interested in getting muddy and running about for 90 minutes on a cold, damp school field.
The challenges PE teacher’s faced with secondary school girls were that they were reaching puberty and more interested in looking good in a PE skirt in front of the boy they fancied than perspiring in the name of sport. It might sound flippant but I can name on one hand the girls in my year that were sporty and encouraged to be so, the rest didn’t enjoy sport or were too busy trying to ‘accidently’ get caught in just their underwear outside the boys changing room. This was literally the sport of titting around.
The serious aspect of this is you can’t force young girls into being interested in sport. The inclination has to be there to watch or participate. The only way to do this is to provide more taster sessions, opportunities to play and stop segregating sport at a young age. Why do there need to be boys and girls teams for the under 7’s??
Play but play for fun at a young age but encourage those with ability and motivation, whatever their gender.
I hope the Olympics will provide more exposure for the women’s game and it will encourage the next generation of supporters and players. Anyone who can make that breakthrough deserves a medal.