Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe you haven’t: FIFA has been beating its own chest recently over the successes of women’s soccer (to an extent, rightfully so), but it all seems too self-serving and insoluble.
FIFA.com on Friday released these quotes from president Joseph S. Blatter on the development of women’s soccer. Blatter cites the memorable 2012 London Olympic tournament and the strong play at the recently concluded U-20 Women’s World Cup in Japan (won by the United States) as clear indicators that women’s soccer is on the up and up.
Then came Sunday’s release about all the splendid domestic leagues we can watch now that those international tournaments have concluded (except that as someone in the U.S., I’ll be hard-pressed to see much of any matches from these leagues). There is mention of how great things are going in Germany, Sweden, England and, yes, even Russia.
But let’s keep this coverage balanced, shall we?
Firstly, Blatter’s comments come off as if he is a father patting his little girl on the head for a job well done. He references good behavior several times in just a short few paragraphs.
“[Spectators saw at the Olympics] how well they played, how fair they play football and how well they behaved,” Blatter said. “Women on the field of play are fair and they are correct.”
How well they behaved? I get what you are trying to say, Sepp — avoiding the whole, diving, whining and injuring each other thing is commendable — but it comes off just a touch demeaning. These women do more than play fairly — they play spectacular, exciting and highly tactical soccer.
The real issue here, though, is that the focus of these comments is yet again on a very select group. Almost all of the talk in the Blatter release (no pun intended) is about Japan, the U-20 Women’s World Cup host and reigning senior Women’s World Cup champion.
While it is true that Japan would make a great host for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, remember that North America, Europe and Asia are still the only three continents to host the senior event. Remember Africa? South America?
These areas are where true development is needed. These areas also go unmentioned by Blatter and usually only receive attention during major tournaments or at Marta’s annual Ballon d’Or nomination. The issue with the chest-thumping about great women’s leagues around the world is that:
1) The focus is primarily only on Europe (surprise), along with the U.S. and Japan.
2) How much of this is actually new information? Turn back the clock five years and we could almost leave this release as is, with a few edits. Germany and Sweden have good leagues! How about those Arsenal Ladies! Oh, and the U.S. may have failed before, but it’s starting up a new league, so hip-hip-hurray!
France continues its fast rise to the top of the women’s soccer world, which is mentioned, and the development of a combined Belgian-Dutch league is interesting, if nothing else.
Now, how about playing opportunities in Africa? Nigeria continues to be the standard-setter on the continent (recent U-20 Women’s World Cup results support that), but how about elsewhere?
What is being done about the continued decline of Brazil and the struggles of South America?
And Russia isn’t exactly all roses and pixie dust, either. Four former WPS players — whether their situations were extremes remains to be seen — revealed the nuances of life in in Russia.
Watching Japan and the U.S. play is fun and matches like that USA-Canada Olympic semifinal provide drama at its finest, regardless of gender. Germany is consistently one of the most entertaining teams in the world. But real development of the game will come when these lesser discussed nations receive more attention and assistance.
Yes, women’s football is developing rapidly, but there is a very long way to go.
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