The Cup Running Over

July 18, 2011 1:03 PM

Women's Soccer Grows ... No Thanks to FIFA

by Harrison Stark

The women's World Cup was, by all accounts, an unequivocal success. From a sporting standpoint, it put last summer's men's cup to shame: the quality of football was superb, with less diving and more attacking play in nearly every match. There were few vitriolic debates about referees or goal-line technology. The tournament was remarkably even-matched, featuring a host of tight contests, and the final, with its last minute equalizers and late drama, was 'magical'.

For the development of the women's game globally, it was unparalleled: after a rocky start, domestic television ratings soared, and a record number of fans watched abroad. The final was the most tweeted event in history (featuring no less than 13 updates from Barack Obama -- what debt crisis?). 

There are many who can take credit for the tournament's success: promotors, local German organizers like Steffi Jones, and of course the players and coaches themselves. Who doesn't deserve any credit? Unfortunately FIFA.

This is how much Sepp Blatter and the rest of FIFA respect the women's game (courtesy of AP)

Football's governing body and official organizer of the tournament lags miles behind the rest of the world in its appreciation of the women's game. The group - which is essentially run as a glorified gentlemen's club - has historically ignored the development of the women's game, and this tournament proved no different. Whereas everyone else seemed to be calling attention to the quality of soccer rather than the players' figures, FIFA's official motto of the tournament was "The Beautiful Side of 2011".

The tournament's official mascot - Karla Kick - was a collage of 19th century stereotypes that seemed almost designed to undermine the integrity of the players: a cat, Karla was silent (FIFA told us she "cannot speak" but was able "to interact with fans on a non-verbal, emotional level."). She was described in traditionally anti-athletic feminine terms, as "spontaneous, bubbly, [and] fond of children." FIFA ended its description with the unfortunately unforgettable, "Karla Kick loves to have her photograph taken, so she is an absolute must for any fans who want to take home a lasting impression of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 in Germany." 

The organization's rhetorical lack of respect was eclipsed only by its financial contribution. Whereas FIFA provided $420 million in prize money for participants at last summer's men's tournament, the  women's teams of this cup get to share a paltry $7.6 million, or less than 2% of the men's equivalent

Women's soccer still fails to get the respect it deserves, especially among a mostly-male hardcore sports faithful. Outside the World Cup, many high-profile events in the women's game continue to be dictated by traditional stereotypes or male fantasies. After all, the most-covered incident in US women's soccer this year was University of New Mexico's Elizabeth Lambert's punching, kicking, and hair-pulling antics during an NCAA match against Brigham Young, which was essentially covered as a glorified 'cat-fight' (the highest rated comment on the YouTube clip, which has over 3 million views, was 'that byu chick is hot').
Though it may seem paradoxical, if we want the average sports fan to continue to take the women's game and this tournament more seriously, maybe distancing ourselves from the tournament's global organizers would be a good place to start.

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