The World Cup kicks off this week - hooray! The Women's World Cup. Hang on, you did know it was on, right?
Quite possibly not.
Despite the sports press in Britain being heavily football dominated, to the point of saturation, and despite the glaring spotlight of publicity being shone on FIFA with the FBI arrest of many executives, the women's World Cup is so under the radar it's almost non existent.
Well, it *is* on, and I'll be settling down to watch as many games as I can, the same as I do for the men's version.
This event, in Canada, from June 6th to July 5th will be the 7th staging of the event, with the number of countries rising to 24 this time, from 16 last time. The usual suspects will be there - the USA, Germany, Sweden, Brazil, and yes, England.
It could be argued the winner will be one of those teams, because the women's game does not have the strength in depth that the men's game has. In fact I'd still class it as a developing sport.
Many attempts have been made to develop the game in the USA, and there's a currently momentum in England, but it's Germany which seems to have got it right. Finance and structure have been in place for years, which is why the national team is always expected to be right up there at the business end of any tournament, and it's up to other countries to catch up.
In England, most football fans still see the women's game as a novelty, and more than that, a novelty not worth the effort to watch.
Now, that's obviously a sweeping generalisation, but the real fans of the women's game are predominantly younger girls. Nothing wrong with that, because that's how the sport develops, by attracting the interest of those that the sport needs to take up the game, but I think it's a shame the big outside world mostly seems to ignore it.
The BBC tries hard, showing live matches, and it will be covering the World Cup heavily, but until the sports press weighs in, plastering the back pages, it's an uphill battle.
The London 2012 Olympics generated a lot of interest, in part due to the quirk of having a GB team rather than separate home nation teams, and it's only England that has qualified this time from the British teams.
So, why is the women's game still seen as a novelty by so many?
Well, it didn't help that FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the spectacle would be improved if the women wore tighter shorts! Yes, he really said that, although let's face it, anything Sepp Blatter says about football can probably be ignored!
The first argument, and I put this first because it's one I've heard for years, and one I used to subscribe to, is the goalkeeping...
It used to be said that women goalkeepers just do not dive around as much as their male counterparts. The male goalkeepers tend to be well over 6 feet tall, and they fling themselves through the air, making it harder to score.
The view is that the women goalkeepers, who aren't as tall, simply don't dive through the air as effectively. Those differences are accentuated by the fact they play with goals the same size as the men's, and you can see the point, that goals are conceded which get groans from fans of the men's game, because they are too easy.
As I said, I used to hold that view myself, and to be honest, you can still see it. There will be goals in this World Cup that just wouldn't happen in the male game. The counter point of course, and it's a valid one, is that comparing the men's and women's game is a red herring, as it is in any sport, because the women are not competing against men, they're competing against other women, and the goal keeping issue is improving.
I think it's fair to point out 2 other arguments trotted out against the women's game - firstly that the level of skill all round is so behind the men's game, that watching it is sometimes like watching schoolchildren playing, and secondly that the atmosphere at the games just isn't the same - without the roar of 70,000 plus male voices, and the ebb and flow of games in the balance, it simply isn't the same.
Well, again, of course it's not the same! Yes, the noise of the fans is quieter because there's less of them and yes it sounds different with a predominantly female tone. Yes, it's also true that many of the games are one sided, too much so, but is that the fault of the team that's winning? Is that the fault of the team, that's losing?
No, it isn't. The comparisons may be truisms, but it's also true that that the women tennis players walk off after playing 3 sets instead of 5. It's also true that the women only do the heptathlon instead of the decathlon.
As it happens, I'd like to see both of those sports change as well, but men's sport is men's sport, and women's sport is women's sport. They must be taken as that, just sport!
This upcoming World Cup is a joint pinnacle of the game for these athletes, along with the Olympics. That should be celebrated, I know I'll be celebrating it, watching and enjoying it in the same way as I do the men's.
Give it go, hop on for the ride, let's help spread the word - you might find you enjoy it!
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