Assessing the Women’s World Cup and its media coverage

As you may have noticed, the Women’s World Cup is taking place in Canada and it seems to be generating a lot more coverage than any of the previous editions.

For most male football fans, women’s football has traditionally been treated as something of a joke and, while distancing myself from the banter that inevitably crosses the line to crude sexism, my own previous viewing experiences of the sport had confirmed the widely held view that: it’s just not very good. I had, therefore, been paying little attention to goings-on in Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg.


Most football sites seem to concur. They may feature the occasional match report on games such as the Women’s FA Cup Final, but they’re usually relegated to the sidebar or some one-off feature.

However, that all seemed to have changed when, on Sunday morning, I awoke in Tokyo wishing to check the result of Scotland and Ireland’s rather key Euro qualifier.

I loaded up the BBC football page excited and nervous about whether the first thing I’d see would be a beaming Shaun Maloney, arms wide in celebration, or a despondent David Marshall, head drooping as he trudges for the tunnel.

I saw neither. Instead, I was greeted with an image of England players celebrating a World Cup win over Mexico.

Now, I understand perfectly well that the other home nations are always going to play second fiddle to England when they have games at the same time and I’m perfectly okay with that – the population of England is nearly ten times that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – but this was the England Women’s team.

Are so many people suddenly interested in women’s football, I wondered, that it’s been promoted to the number one football story of the day? I would have been surprised to see a women’s game ahead of a men’s friendly, let alone a competitive game between a home nation and an English speaking nation just a hop, a skip and a jump away and with a sizable population residing within the UK.

Well, I thought, if it really is that popular, maybe it’s improved. Maybe all this coverage is merited. Or is it all just a poorly misguided attempt to create equality? I decided it was time to have another watch.

I chose a game the next available day based on which one looked to be the highest quality and decided on hosts Canada v the Netherlands, two teams ranked 8th and 12th in the world respectively. I also watched the highlights of a dozen more games to get a more rounded view of the competition. Here are my thoughts:

The atmosphere

Other than for the Canada game – for which there was a sizable crowd inside the stadium – there seemed to be a distinct lack of noise. Was this just poor positioning of microphones? I had to wait for goals to find out.

When the ball hit the back of the net, there was a definite cheer, but nothing like the roar of a men’s game. There was none of the sudden rush you feel and see in a serious competitive sporting event. Instead people slowly stood, gathered their flags and waved about.


The pace

It is glacial. While there was little discernible difference in the speed the ball moved on the pitch – other than when shooting – this only served to make the lack of pace of the players all the more obvious.

Instead of seeing strikers sprinting onto zipped through balls, we witnessed the ball speeding away from players who looked like they were jogging and were only able to catch up to it once it had slowed dramatically.

I’d never noticed this before, but in the men’s game, the ball essentially doesn’t stop unless someone puts their foot on top of it. In the women’s game it frequently rolls to a near halt while players run too slowly to meet it.

The errors

In all sports, players make errors. It’s part of the game and adds to the excitement. However, the sheer number made during the games I watched was embarrassing. Players slipped, keepers fumbled, passes were misplaced, jumps were mistimed; players missed the ball, missed open goals. Through it all, the movement and shape of the teams were amateur at best.

It was not unusual to see four to six players all gathered round the ball – like you see in primary school games – swinging their feet at it without making solid contact until it eventually bobbled away into empty space. I did see some nice goals in the highlights reels, but I saw a lot more that were either easily preventable or gifted by dreadful mistakes.

I would challenge anyone to watch Switzerland’s eighth and ninth goals in their 10-1 rout of Ecuador and then claim they were watching a professional sporting event.

The commentary

This was what perhaps leant the experience the ultimate air of amateurism. Not that the commentators were bad, just that they were utterly averse to offering any sort of criticism of anybody.

Instead of denigrating players for fresh air swipes, they were applauded for “nearly getting there”, instead of the usual “oh dear” that follows a misplaced pass, we were told the player was “unlucky”.

This generosity extended even to the officials who made several shocking decisions but were only described as being “perhaps a little hasty with the flag” when a player was over a yard onside. To my ears, it came over as nothing less than patronising.

The verdict

What I saw on the pitch was not impressive. I was, to be brutally honest, bored. Admittedly, I had no vested interest in who won, but nor did I care who emerged victorious when Argentina played Germany last year or when Barcelona played Juventus two weeks ago and I enjoyed both games thoroughly.

Which led me to wonder why. What is it about 22 foreign players, playing for teams I don’t support that makes for such must-watch viewing?

The reason, I believe, is that we are seeing the best of the best. We are watching the limits of human potential. When I see Germany breaking at pace, David Silva whipping in crosses, Messi dribbling, Ronaldo leaping for a header, I am seeing things that neither I, nor anyone I know, can possibly do. At its best, football can be legitimately described as breath-taking.

Women’s football cannot. Outside the media, there seems to be little to no interest in the tournament and it’s clear why. The quality is no better than League Two (I’m exaggerating – it’s not even close), and until it improves that’s about as much coverage as it should get.

By all means, push aside a game between Hartlepool and Mansfield for women’s football, some people are interested, but please don’t relegate an important game attended by nearly 50,000 for the sake of equality.

The Author

Richard James

Richard James was born in Scotland, but has spent most of the last decade travelling - mainly in Asia and Eastern Europe. In 2012 he circumnavigated the world with the Japanese NGO Peace Boat and wrote a collection of stories about the experience. He currently lives in Tokyo.

14 thoughts on “Assessing the Women’s World Cup and its media coverage

  1. very very unfair on the women’s game. It’s the same as men’s football as in you can just as easily get a good game as a bad one. there have been some awful games in this years WWC but there have been some very good ones particularly a 3-3 draw. There have been some stunning long range goals and while there’s been an awful amount of keeping errors I have seen a couple of saves that any keeper in the world would be happy to make. If you want to see women’s football at its best take a look at the 2011 final. Only part of that article I agree with is the awful ‘you go girl’ commentary that these games receive, they are professionals playing on a world stage so if they make a mistake there’s no problem pointing it out.

  2. Imagine getting so upset about having to scroll down the BBC Sport Website slightly.

    Imagine getting so upset about having to scroll down the BBC Sport website slightly that you have to write a blog post about it.

    Imagine deciding that one match of women’s football is enough to gain context and give your opinion any weight at all.

    It’s ludicrous.

    “I would challenge anyone to watch Switzerland’s eighth and ninth goals in their 10-1 rout of Ecuador and then claim they were watching a professional sporting event.”

    Well that’s probably because, in Ecuador’s case, you’re not watching professionals. Part of the reason for that is because women’s football was banned by the FA for half a century – due to the fact that its large crowds and social conscience threatened the cosy world of the men’s professional game.

    Another reason is that women’s football receives vastly less media coverage than equivalently supported men’s sports. More people watch WSL matches than County cricket, yet the latter is well covered in most newspapers, the former barely makes a ripple.

    But of course you knew all that before you tossed off this tedious tripe. Just like you knew how the artificial pitches are affecting play, how segregation of referees lowers standards.

    Men’s football has never had to argue for respect – never had to fight for proper pitches, competent officials, serious coverage. That’s all taken for granted. It’s not in women’s football. Just this week, Spanish footballers have signed an open letter to their FA demanding change – the Spanish WNT coach has been in place since 1988.

    “football can be legitimately described as breath-taking”

    The assumption that women’s football is not, and cannot be, is laughable. It’s like there wasn’t Marta’s doomed one-woman effort to win the UWCL for equally doomed Tyreso; like there wasn’t Kim Little skipping past Nadine Angerer in stoppage time to silence 16,000 raucous Portland fans; like there wasn’t the heroics of the Tsunami-inspired Nadeshiko in the 2011 final.

    My favourite moments of the WWC so far:
    – Nigeria’s equaliser over fancied Sweden to make it 3 – 3.
    – Colombia’s second goal to seal the win against favourites France.
    – Norway’s perfectly executed free-kick equaliser against Germany.
    – The raucous fun of the match between two of the worst sides in the tournament – Cote d’Ivoire and Thailand.

  3. Brace yourself Richard – you’ve dared to be honest and now you’ll be all the names under the sun.

    I couldn’t agree more with this article – it seems to me that outlets like the BBC are pushing the WWC simply because they don’t want to be seen as biased.

    For those saying “you follow Scotland” and “you had to scroll down to get to a story”, you’ve missed the point (intentionally I’d guess..). Yes, Scotland are poor (but they’ve run England close twice, so maybe be careful with the slagging on that front..), but the point is that Scotland had a European Qualifier and the story is relegated to second fiddle behind a game of no higher quality than (at a push) League One simply because it’s England.

    The women’s game is improving, no doubts there, but until it’s good enough to EARN the coverage, it shouldn’t be given top billing in an outlet like the BBC.

  4. Pathetic piece. I’ve been watching the men’s game at the highest level for three decades now, and I am thoroughly enjoying — and thoroughly impressed with — the Women’s World Cup. Fantastic levels of technique, tactics and athleticism, along with great narratives and great drama. You’re a dinosaur, mate.

  5. I’m really embarrassed to read this, I feel so sorry for you. As a Brit living in Canada and seeing first hand how positive an affect this is having, especially at grass roots level, I can’t think of anything more worthy of the front page of the BBC.

    The game is so advanced in the UK but it’s growing so quickly in North America and tournaments such as this only boost its profile to all audiences. Also, it’s a World Cup mate – as in the absolute peak of what any woman can accomplish in the game.

    I think someone above mentioned you were a dinosaur – absolutely no way you’re that evolved.

    I can only assume you’re a very junior writer and my hope is when you mature and realise what you’ve written here, it’s not uncovered because this is an absolute career ruining article.

  6. Hi everyone, and thanks for commenting. I was braced for a reaction much like this.

    To those who offered constructive criticism, I’d like to point out that this is a condemnation purely of the quality of play. I would never suggest that the women’s world cup is not a place where human and narrative dramas can be played out or that it’s not worth hosting.

    My argument consists of two very simple strands. The pace of the women’s game is slow. There are too many individual errors.

    I fail to see how anyone could disagree with the first point. Whether or not that detracts enough from your enjoyment of the sport is down to your own personal preference, but it was a problem for me. Pace and power, I feel, are integral parts of what makes football entertaining. I’d like to contrast that with tennis, where I find nothing more dull than watching two male, big servers power down ace after ace. I far prefer watching the women’s game, in which we often see longer rallies played with incredible skill, technique and agility. As above, purely my own personal preference (although, when voiced, this opinion rarely proves quite as inciting).

    It also leads me to the second point. The reason female tennis players have such skill is they have often been provided with the best coaches and facilities the sport has to offer almost since they were infants. As have many male football players. Few, if any, female football players have. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that, it means that there is not the same level of skill and training on show. As someone mentioned above, many players don’t appear professional because they literally are not. For me, the amount of individual errors I saw detracted from my enjoyment of the games as sport. For you, perhaps, it does not.

    One last thing I’d like to address is the accusations that the opinion expressed is that of a “dinosaur”. I don’t understand why. I’m not suggesting that it’s unseemly for women to play football or that other people should not enjoy watching it. I’m simply explaining why I was disappointed by what I saw.

    And “disappointed” is the key word. I had high expectations due to the large amount of media coverage this tournament has been given. Maybe in eight or twelve years, I’ll watch again and discover the game really has come on, but, on the evidence of this tournament, I stand by my opinion that the quality of play is poor.

  7. Not everyone has to enjoy women’s football. It is a different footballing culture and style – there are certain things that take some getting used to – the pace of the game being one of them.

    Thankfully, we don’t yet live in a world where we are forced at gunpoint to watch England play (though I believe it’s in Phase 3 of Theresa May’s Prevent strategy). You can not watch women’s football and leave people who do enjoy watching women’s football to the world cup – it’s not like we’re not aware of most of the stuff you flagged up.

    What is ridiculous is kicking off that it appears below a men’s match on your favourite sport website and thinking you can “judge” a sport on the basis of 90 minutes of live play and a few highlights clips. That’s embarrassing, And marks you as an entitled prick.

  8. I don’t know which to laugh derisively at first, the pathetic whinging that your team didn’t get as much press coverage as you’d like (are you ten?) or your apparent belief that this – “we are seeing the best of the best. We are watching the limits of human potential. When I see Germany breaking at pace, David Silva whipping in crosses, Messi dribbling, Ronaldo leaping for a header, I am seeing things that neither I, nor anyone I know, can possibly do. At its best, football can be legitimately described as breath-taking.” is significantly more applicable to Scotland vs Ireland than it is to the women’s world cup for the average viewer.

    Or that you’re blatantly a weeaboo. Eeek.

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