Is women's football making a big mistake?

Keith Richards
4 Jul 2019
Women's World Cup

This week I was really looking forward to seeing the women’s world cup semi-final between England and the USA. I had never watched 90 minutes of women’s football before and was captivated by the media hype.

The game was initially very exciting but by the time the final whistle blew I had lost all interest.

This was not because England had lost but the hype around the game seemed to suggest that women’s football was different and a breath of fresh air in comparison to the men’s game – but for me, it wasn’t.

There was a lot of diving, a lot of feigning injury and a constant stream of abuse aimed at the referee.

Is women’s football missing an opportunity here?

Women’s football is being heralded as breaking down barriers and stereotypes. A whole new set of role models are emerging. It is often cited as being ‘a great advertisement for youngsters – particularly young girls’.

…but what is the message here? Is the message to young girls that they should copy the men and adopt the bad habits that are now engrained in the men’s game, which I no longer watch?

The game didn’t use to be like that. I grew up watching George Best. He seemed to be able to stay on his feet quite happily!

Does the women's game need to conform?

I have worked for many years in all sorts of corporate environments and I have seen first-hand the positive effect that women in the workplace have created particularly at senior levels as more and more women break into the boardroom and through the glass ceiling. But I believe that this has been achieved by women introducing their own behaviours and brand of professionalism - it has not been achieved by ‘aping what the men do’.

The rules of football do not say that you need to dive to win a free kick, pretend to be hurt so that you can run down the clock or pressurise the referee to win some decisions. These are behaviours - they are not mandatory. In the workplace, the same applies. Jobs are well-defined but how you behave in the workplace is a matter of choice.

Is this an opportunity?

I think that the governing bodies of women’s football have a great opportunity here. Isn’t the best example to set to the youngsters play hard, play fair and play with respect? The message coming from the semi-final I watched was - pretend you were fouled; pretend you are hurt and swear at the referee if you feel like it. Put more succinctly - cheat, lie and give abuse!

Is that a good message from these new role models?

Ironically, this is very easy to stop if the governing bodies of women’s football want to stop it. There are dozens of cameras at each game and they can all show high-definition slow-motion replays. During the game on Tuesday there were obvious examples of players diving where no contact at all had been made. Other sports make use of ‘citing’ in order to put their house in order. It is just a question of desire. The men’s game has ducked the issue over the last 25 years in my opinion.

Why not introduce zero tolerance for diving, gamesmanship and dissent? Wouldn't that make for a clearly different 'product'.

I believe that our workplaces are better because they are more diverse, and this has been achieved by changing the ethos and culture of the workplace not by conforming to the existing norms and culture.

Why not disrupt?

So why not take a leaf out of the digital era and be a disruptor? Billie-Jean King and Kathrine Switzer (the first female to run the Boston marathon) did not take the easy option and look what they achieved!

Does anyone in the governing bodies of women’s football have the courage to be different? Do any of them really care about the example they are setting?

Women have transformed many areas of the workplace in recent years – they have done this by SETTING the agenda not by FOLLOWING it.

As someone once remarked ‘women’s football could be a good role model for men’s football!’ – how about that as an inclusive example to set for today’s young footballers!


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