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England May Be Out of the Women's World Cup, But We Must Continue to Praise and Popularise Women's Sports

02/07/2015 10:44 BST | Updated 01/07/2016 10:59 BST
Vaughn Ridley/EMPICS Sport

For some time, I have lamented the male-centric nature of the sports pages, and so to see women's football in the spotlight over the past few weeks has been a welcome change. The fact that the semi-finals were televised on BBC One shows that the tide is turning, although some people - including those who claim to be devoted football fans - still dismiss the women's game, from journalist Andy Benoit to the Daily Mirror.

It is often argued that the women's game is less interesting, yet I fail to see how anyone who has actually watched the games can possibly argue that they are dull. The result may not have perfect but the semi-final between Japan and England was a prime example of the excitement, drama, and ultimately heartbreak, that women's football can so often conjure up. I heard someone say they were "fed up of ridiculous scores like 10-0" in women's matches - but that's ten goals! TEN! If you like football, you probably like goals, and we've seen some belters in this year's World Cup; just check out this incredible shot from Lucy Bronze against Norway.

There couldn't be more of a contrast with the men's game, which has become so heavily choreographed that everyone (usually) knows what the score will be before the game has even started. The unpredictability that one sees in the women's game offers a different kind of viewing experience to the higher standard of play in men's football; but this remains a valid and exciting form of entertainment.

I defy you to maintain that women's football is boring, but if you insist - after having genuinely watched a significant amount - then the solution, I'm afraid, is to keep watching and keep investing to improve the standard of the game. Presumably we've all realised by now that it is nurture, not nature, which has put men ahead of women in football, since the history, funding and attention received by the men's game far outweighs the women's.

It's also refreshing to see all-female teams being celebrated. We've all heard of "male bonding", but groups of women are often assumed to be competitive, bitchy and gossipy. Strong women are usually shown in isolation (unless seen in relation to the family unit as wives and mothers), but the idea of powerful women as haughty and self-centred couldn't be further from the heart-warming images of the Lionesses comforting Laura Bassett after her error in the semi-finals.

Another point I would argue about female footballers is that they seem to want to get on with the game: diving, time-wasting and other theatrics which characterise the men's game have been conspicuously absent from the women's World Cup. That's not to say they don't play dirty, and though I don't condone pulling people to the ground BY THEIR HAIR (I'm looking at you Elizabeth Lambert), would you really rather watch the amateur dramatics of a man pretending to writhe around on his back, wiggling his legs in the air like a dead fly?

On a more serious note, in the light of England's recent success in the Women's World Cup, now seems like an opportune moment to think about the media coverage of women's sports, and how it can affect the fitness habits of real people. I was pretty active as a child, not least because my Dad told me that if I didn't use my legs for running around, that they would "disappear up my bottom" (a rather creative incentive, I'll grant you, but an effective one). As with so many teenage girls, however, this tapered off as my body changed with adolescence and felt more like an obstacle than an ally. The media offered few sporting role models to young women - even Sporty Spice never actually played any sports (unless you count all those random high-kicks in the air) - and it's time we put more emphasis on what women's bodies can do, and less on what they look like.

The idea that "if you can't see it, you can't be it" is becoming more relevant than ever in the internet age, and it's worth thinking about how we can encourage women to continue to play sports after they leave school. We need to carry forward the positive momentum of the 2015 women's World Cup and keep sportswomen in the spotlight, as this has the potential to deal with problems such as sedentary lifestyles, depression, issues around body image and physical health problems. We're already seeing positive effects: the Lionesses have reversed negative attitudes and inspired women across the nation to get involved.

You can do your bit just by watching the game, supporting teams and talking about the sport in the same way that you would do about the men's game. After all, the football season doesn't start up again until early August (if you can really call it a 'season' given that it takes up most of the year), and any true football fan should want to see - and play - as much of the beautiful game as possible, and to encourage others to do the same.