Sexism is Corruption: Spain’s Women Stand Up for the Game

This week, 23 Spanish national team players published a letter calling for the removal of their manager Ignacio Quereda, and an end to the national federation’s abusive relationship the women’s game. Billy Haisely published an excellent overview of this story on Deadspin. [I wrote about this problem in 2011, and have re-published that text at the end of this post.]

Spain’s women’s team has been on my mind for a long time. In 2011, a year after the men won their World Cup, the women had never even qualified for either a World Cup or an Olympics. They’d had the same coach since 1988. Some of the best Spanish players refused to play on the squad. And yet there has been no active reporting on the problem.

In 2011, as far as I could tell, the situation of Spain’s women’s team was widely known but discussed only within the very tiny community of fans following international women’s football. How is it that I’m one of the few people to have actually published about this? I’m not a sports journalist. I have zero contacts to that level of the game. I am, quite simply, a fan. My 2011 post was largely speculative. I don’t recall seeing a single story between 2011 and 2014 which took up this question. Quite the opposite. Spain’s qualification was taken as a sign that things were “improving.” (That’s always the narrative in the women’s game, things are “improving.”)

The situation of the Spanish women’s national program really gets my goat—it’s a double insult. First we have the obscenity of the way the RFEF treats the women’s program; then we have the media’s indifference to what is OBVIOUSLY a good news story. I can hardly see straight when I think about it. Maybe, with 23 players coming forward — and with a stream of stories emerging in Spain’s sports media — we’ll see some change.

And then I think…

BRAZIL’S WOMEN’S TEAM DID THIS IN 2007, publishing an open letter in O Globo. NOTHING CHANGED. NOTHING.

There is a problem in how we tend to approach these stories. These are not “just” stories about sexism. They are stories about corruption in the game.

It was a former international player who explained this to me. What keeps anyone in a position for an insane amount of time in football, in spite of mountains of evidence of their stupidity and incompetence?

Corruption, and nepotism. The women’s game is hobbled by the same cheats who hobble the men’s game, and we need to get just as angry about it. We need to organize against it. We need to stand in solidarity with our Brazilian and our Spanish sisters.

It is corrupt to leave an abusive, incompetent manager in his position for decades. It is corrupt to fire the people who try to change things. And the media is complicit in that corruption when it does not treat that story with the same level of seriousness with which it treats transfer rumors.

I have so much respect for these 23 players from Spain: in coming forward in such an environment some of them have no doubt said goodbye to international competition forever. That is a horrible thing. But those same women know that they’ve also been shackled by their own desire to play for the team—the level of incompetence, the abuse, its multi-generational duration—it is not tolerable.

Young players in past have imagined that through hard work and forbearance, by cooperating with the existing structures, by showing their countrymen that the team has the talent to break into the highest levels of play—that somehow they will change their federation’s attitude. Time and time again we see that this is not true. No one with any awareness can believe that hard work itself is the answer for women players. It is not the case that women athletes can, through their ability, overcome the corruption, sexism and homophobia of their federations.

Brazil’s national women’s football program is governed by corrupt bureaucrats who see women as sub-human, and the women’s game as just another site through which they can practice their grift. Marta and her teammates have been trying to change that for at least eight years.

Women athletes in these programs are deeply alienated from the federation’s administrative structures. Women athletes in these programs see no future for themselves—not on the pitch, not as coaches, not in any of the structures that govern the game. If they are lucky, they leave their country. Or just make peace with it, stick with a grassroots sports scene, and do something else with their lives.

Many women’s teams have every right to just flat out strike. FIFA’s structures force women’s programs into a deeper part of its sewer—where men are coerced into complicity with FIFA’s corruption through the promise of fame and financial fortune, women are coerced into silence with the threat of being removed from the game altogether.

The more people who stand with these athletes, right now, the better.

From “Why Spain is Absence from the World Cup” (FoxSoccer.com/2011)

Catalan women play like Catalan men. I make this banal observation from the stands of the third annual seven-aside women’s tournament in San Celoni, a short train ride from Barcelona.

Like everyone else outside Germany, people in Spain are only dimly aware of the Women’s World Cup.

Even the women attending this tournament didn’t have plans to watch the opening match. At least half this crowd will head from the pitch to Barcelona Pride. (The World Cup opener is also coordinated with Berlin’s Gay and Lesbian Pride festival).

That people here would be indifferent makes sense: Spain’s national women’s team didn’t come close to qualifying. They have never qualified for either the Olympics or the World Cup.This should give us pause. Not only are the men champions of everything, the top Spanish female athletes play in professional and semi-professional leagues alongside national team players who will be playing in the World Cup. They more than hold their on at the international level. Something is clearly wrong.

As I watch the San Celoni tournament, I’m constantly on my feet. The skill level at this recreational event on the edge of the Pyrenees is shocking in and of itself, but it also raised many questions for all that it implies about the quality of Spanish women players. Why aren’t they in Germany right now? The mostly Catalan players in this tournament are completely unafraid to hold the ball, and show tremendous trust in each other. They pass the ball back into tight spots, to defenders who then coax it through a wall of attack.

Some have a zen-like calm, as if it never occurs to them they might lose possession. That has its own unnerving effect on opponents. You can break a team with that kind of self-confidence. It’s seven-a-side, so it’s a brutally fast game. The play is fluid – there is none of the blind, reactive play that comes from not having a plan. They know each other, pass and run into space and keep moving. And some of these women can score from any place on the pitch. (The level of the best players was described by the tournament organizers as a couple of steps down from Spain’s top division.)

There is no missing Barcelona’s influence. Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that the men’s club is, as they like to proclaim, mes que un club: they are the most perfect expression of the region’s style and ethos. This is clearly just the way everybody in the region plays, and Barça’s just figured out the perfect harvesting system.

Women and men do not play on separate planets. Most of us actually grow up playing with boys and a lot of us continue to play with men. All of the women’s teams in the World Cup will have trained against men’s teams.

For all the talk about how the two games are different, the players themselves are characterized more by what they share than what they don’t. Look at the US: Who squeaks through qualifying matches? Who gives up a goal early and has to claw their way to a win, grabbing victory in the last seconds of the match? Who, at their best, earns respect around the world for their stamina and determination? Brazil’s women play with rhythm, a fluid give-and-go game marked by sudden bursts of speed and lots of improvisation. It makes them very hard to predict. They force teams to devote many players to the exclusive work of containing a few. They are hard to beat without engaging the dreaded Catanaccio.

Then we get one of those horrible 1-0 victories that makes you want to kill yourself and throw away the television, just as happens in the men’s game. That was the 2007 World Cup championship match between Germany and Brazil. (Sound familiar?) The women I watched in this tournament play an even more refined version of that “Latin” game. Just like their brothers. So why aren’t the women champions of everything?

How on earth is it that a country that produces intensely talented players, players who hold their own in the best leagues in the world – How is it this team has not even qualified – ever – for the two most important tournaments in the game?

There is rarely a simple answer to this kind of question. This is one of those rare cases when there is. They have had the same manager for nearly thirty years. Ignacio Quereda. This must be one of the most devastating statements regarding a national association’s indifference regarding its women’s team. After three decades, such a spectacular record of failure can’t be laid at his feet alone. This shame belongs to every person at the Real Federación Española de Fútbol. These people should be put in fútbol jail.

Not surprisingly, players have a lot to say about this situation – they must, because women players hoping for a cap almost never speak out. In a May interview with Nell Enriquez for Equalizer Soccer, the much lauded striker Laura del Rio did just that. She explained her absence from the Spain squad in very stark terms.

NE: Let’s talk a bit about the Spaniard Women’s National Team. You started in 39 caps and scored 40 goals while with them. What happened during that time?

Del Rio: Yes, that’s correct. Being part of the team was a dream come true. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with Ignacio Quereda, the manager of the team. He’s been with the team for over 28 years. We don’t see eye to eye on many things. I’m not the only one who is no longer part of the team due to this. There are many.

NE: Is there any way that you would go back?

Del Rio: Yes, for Quereda to leave the team.

I am not sure I’ve seen a more direct statement in the women’s game. And there is the answer to our question.

Passions United, a review

The bored room.

A FIFA boardroom, in which passions are united.

United Passions is fascinating. Not as a movie, of course. FIFA’s 30 million-dollar self-portrait is, instead, fascinating evidence. FIFA leaves its fingerprints on every aspect of the work’s form and content.

Structurally, the film stages a bold intervention against story-telling practice. United Passions demands that cinema catch up with the times: the dominant narrative form used by the people who govern our lives from conference rooms is that of the bullet-point presentation. This biography of a corporation thus appropriately takes the form of Powerpoint Cinema.

Blocks of information are presented in a static visual form, usually in a manner that is not entirely unlike this sentence: a passive presentation of the way things are. Randomly-generated transitions move the viewer from one information block to the next. A cause-effect relationship will be implied by the flow of one slide to the next. Sequencing is, in and of itself, all one needs in terms of structure. Information flashes across the screen; the audience is spared the burden of understanding and insight. This presentation of information is usually accompanied by an image grabbed through a google search.

One might call this a “lie-back-and-think-of England” approach to one’s audience.

This phrase, “lie-back-and-think-of England,” for the reader lucky enough to not know, refers to the advice given to women regarding the inevitability of sexual coercion in their married lives. United Passions gives us a new spin on that phrase, as several bullet points are dedicated to demonizing the men of English Football Association. The English FA’s pomposity is here developed as a background — perhaps the only available background — against which FIFA leadership might indulge the idea that they are merely humble servants to the beautiful game. FIFA/the English FA: this the film’s most compelling face-off. Or perhaps I should say, “most compelling bullet-point sequence.”  The only thing that unites the passions of FIFA’s founding characters is their shared hatred of that other imperialist congress of entitled white assholes. (To be clear, true to its form, this is indicated in the film, rather than, say, written and acted.)

Passions United is admirably open about the scale of self-serving ambition that lies at the root of the organization. FIFA was founded, we are told, for the sole purpose of having total control over the game everywhere such control matters, mainly because a few European men were annoyed that a few English men were bitchy to them. Men in suits, largely indistinguishable from each other, declare that the only rules of the game that will matter are their rules, that the only associations that matter will be FIFA associations. Voilá! FIFA Article I: Football will not exist outside of FIFA. This naked desire for monopoly is presented by the film’s swelling score as a “win” for the game.

Sprinkled throughout Passions United (I can’t get enough of this title) is imaginative thinking which presents FIFA’s so-called political neutrality as a simultaneously anti-fascist and populist politics — e.g. a party sequence in which an English FA executive spews racist and sexist nonsense at a horrified woman (Rimet’s daughter, more on her below), a bizarre boardroom scene that recycles debunked myths regarding wartime matches (these stories are also so badly told that one can’t actually follow them anyway, so their veracity is perhaps less an issue than their coherence). These moments are reassuringly familiar as staple elements of FIFA’s pantry: bad faith and pure bullshit.

Of course, as a feminist football critic, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that women are not only not forgotten by United Passions, they are all over its Powerpoint script, as is, shall we say, the idea of Africa.

The film confirms something we have long suspected: women and Africa occupy similar, even perhaps the same symbolic territory for FIFA. The film wonderfully maps out FIFA’s psychopathology so that we might better understand the exact roles that women and Africa play in the organization’s self-understanding. Women and Africa appear in United Passions as spaces of conquest, ownership, and creepy intimacy.

Africa functions as a scapegoat for FIFA’s corruption. One scene (one bullet-point) identifies Africa’s increased participation in FIFA as a “pandora’s box”—Africa functions in this film at once as a territory to be rescued, the locus of all foul play, as cash cow, and as a trophy. Women operate as both an alibi guaranteeing FIFA’s good intentions and, also, as evidence demonstrating the nature of FIFA’s bad intentions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The daughters of Jules Rimet and Sepp Blatter are given a shocking amount of screen time.

Nary a scene happens without one or the other fille: they are represented as essential conversation partners—the people with whom Rimet and Blatter talk out all of their ideas—within the script they are, really, the only people that these patriarchs can trust. This creates a little confusion. Normally, when a man talks this much at a woman in a film, it is because she is the object of his sexual interest; possession of her functions as an affirmation of his phallic power.

In short, the father-daughter partnerships of United Passions are startlingly incestuous. This is in no small part because Rimet, played by Gerard Depardieu, constantly puts his hands on his daughter (played by Jemima West), and because in at least one scene, in which the two are standing in an empty, large open public space, they stand so closely that Depardieu’s belly touches poor West. It is also because both women “characters” (that is really not quite the right word for them) function as fluffers: their sole function is to pump up Daddy’s ego. Take one of the most infamous lines of the film—as Rimet worries that playing a World Cup during the Great Depression might be wrong, his daughter says: “When have dreams ever been appropriate?” Indeed.

I appreciate the way that United Passions re-envisions Hollywood casting practices, in which women young enough to be the daughters/granddaughters of the male lead will be cast as their romantic object of interest as if such sexual relationships were fun to watch. Here, at least, that romance is called out as fundamentally incestuous—and it is presented as extremely uncomfortable viewing.

But this perhaps also reflects FIFA’s actual world, in which women can never function as equal partners, or should I say co-conspirators? The only appropriate position for a woman is as a “daughter” to FIFA’s “daddy.” Lie Back…

[I now have to wash out my eyeballs and scrub down my brain.]

Readers totally unfamiliar with the most banal conventions of the sports film might be surprised to learn that the film’s narrative superstructure is provided by a joyous pick-up game, played by children who have taken over a dusty pitch in a worn-out stadium on the edge of a city in an “emerging” nation. They are the children of the world—one of every color, and even one of the “other” gender (fair-skinned, of course). This sequence, which opens and closes the film — a “bullet point” which declares the game’s universal appeal — was filmed in Azerbaijan, whose government generously funded Passions Uniting Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations, and is therefore listed as a production partner.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This sequence, ironically depicting exactly the kind of game over which FIFA has no control whatsoever, as well as a kind of match (mixed-gender football) that FIFA explicitly prohibits, is the part of United Passions that one might equate with the google-search-produced image dropped into a Powerpoint slide. Of course, at first the lone girl resigns herself to playing goal. And she doesn’t know how to defend, apparently, because she makes barely a gesture to blocking shots—accepting humiliation and uselessness as her gendered lot—until, at the last moment and for no particular reason, she takes the ball, dribbles it up the field, shoots and scores. Her teammates are overwhelmed with joy. “Who would have believed this!” The film’s audience is asked this in a voice-over—an editorial accident superimposes the surprise that FIFA has lasted as long as it has, “accomplished” as much as it has, over an image which suggests a community’s surprise that a girl knows how to kick a ball.

Embedded below, the film’s conclusion. “Enjoy” it while you can.

FIFA Quality Control

FIFA’s video explaining its commitment to quality playing surface for men. Enjoy.

Why meet the standard for a World Cup?

Why meet the standard for a World Cup?

I Hate FIFA More Than You Do, a poem

I hate Sepp Blatter

as much as I hated Jesse Helms, may that homophobic, racist monster rot in hell.

I hate FIFA

like I hate the contemporary art market, which is run by bankers and assholes.

I hate Sepp Blatter

more than I am disgusted by rotten meat.

I hate FIFA

in exactly the same way that I hate Capitalism.

I hate Sepp Blatter

without the pleasure of hating a villain in a movie.

I hate FIFA

because FIFA hates women.

I hate Sepp Blatter

more than I hate Manchester United, a club I don’t hate as much as one should.

I hate FIFA

with a white-hot passion that seems to know no scale.

I hate Sepp Blatter

only slightly less than I hate the assault on structures that do not service the rich, which is still a high order of hate.

I hate FIFA

more than I hate the sexism of my workplace, which surprises me.

I hate Sepp Blatter

more than you do, unless you aren’t on FIFA’s payroll, in which case

You hate FIFA as much as, maybe even more than I do.

Transborder Game

A match staged against/across the Mexico-U.S. border wall by the artist collective Homeless, in 2010, in collaboration with MexiCali Biennial.

Boxing v Beating

Boxing is as much about not being hit as it is about hitting. Minus its defensive art, a fight is not boxing but a beating. Unless you are a psychopath, beatings are not fun to watch. Not even in the movies.

Boxing is what Mayweather does in the ring; beating is what he does out of it.

What is the different spectacle that an audience longs for when it yawns over the grind of boxing’s defensive arts? It longs for the beating to beat the boxing.

Neither Mayweather nor Pacquiao are friends to women. The spectator who longs to watch Mayweather take a beating in the name of the women he has hurt is not a friend to women either.

Feminist Baseball Video Art: Vanalyne Green, “A Spy in the House that Ruth Built” (1989)

The Revolt of the Woman Athlete

vid6-20071002174503

Hope Solo’s sex life makes more news than the struggle of the world’s best athletes for basic gender equity. I open this post with those four words, “Hope Solo’s sex life,” because public fascination with her, as a woman — meaning, as a sex object (google searches of her name are usually in the pursuit of “nude pics”) — means that this post might get more traffic than would a post that leads with its true subject, a gender discrimination law suit.

Of course, if you’ve landed here looking for nude pics, by now I’ve already lost you. Instead of nude pictures of Hope Solo, I’ve given you a blurry screen grab of Brazil’s women’s national team, circa 2007.

In 2007, the year they knocked the US women’s team out of the World Cup in one of the most shocking upsets ever, Marta Viera da Silva and her insanely gifted teammates begged the world for help: their national federation had all but abandoned the team. The team had to fight to get access to the money they won in previous tournaments, their training schedule was irregular, and their support team at tournaments was inadequate. Their intervention made no news outside of light reporting of the incident by Brazilian media. Nothing changed. If anything, things have gotten worse. In 2011, Brazil’s federation (CBF) didn’t bother to order the team uniforms. They were sent to the World Cup in Germany wearing shirts for the men’s team.

That a team would do something like unfurl a protest banner at an award ceremony is a big deal. Logistically it is harder to do this than it is to raise one’s fist from a podium.

But of course, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos did just that, the world’s eyes were upon them. They were at the center of the sport spectacle. Women athletes are eternally on its margins. We have only peripheral vision when it comes to their gestures of protests. A fuzzy screen-grab.

Sixty national team players from around the world are now participating in the gender discrimination complaint filed against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association. That is twenty more players than when this complaint was filed a month ago. The jump in the numbers of women willing to identify themselves as in conflict with the World Cup’s governing bodies was provoked by the threats of retaliation circulating through national teams—players from Mexico, Costa Rica and France were told they’d either be dropped from the squad if they didn’t withdraw their names—or their national football association was told they’d lose any bid to host the women’s world cup. Instead of bullying these players into backing down, these actions galvanized them.

Women athletes care about the sport, but the sport’s governing bodies do not give a shit about them.

And mainstream sports media doesn’t give a shit about that. I’ve been blogging about this stuff for seven years: the only thing that has improved is player-activation as resistant subjects.

Mainstream sports media only pays any real attention to the US Women’s National Team when they are in competition, and only after they’ve made it to the semi-finals. The day in, day out grind of women’s sports is not news worthy. There is not a news/sports editor in the US who will tell you that women’s sports is, in and of itself, newsworthy. Those outlets will instead vomit bullshit stories about transfers and free agents and the post-game interview in which male players and managers explore a verbal universe of infinitely expanding empty space. Every day, hours and hours of bullshit about men doing nothing in particular.

The public conjured by mainstream sports media cares more about that empty space than it does about anything women athletes accomplish.

How else to explain the fact that Canada was the only country to bid for the 2015 tournament? Even though the women’s championship tournaments have been successful, as mass sporting events. And they are much less dogged by controversy—they do not require displacement or  military occupation of whole communities, for example.

FIFA accepted a bid that gave up grass for the women’s matches—in Canada, of all places—while accepting another bid built around the elaborate, delusional promise of grass in Qatar!

As FIFA downgrades the Women’s World Cup, women lose the incentive to play it. When FIFA failed to solicit a decent bid for the Women’s World Cup, it ought to have stopped the process and started over again—by proactively developing World Cup bids, in partnership with potential host countries.

Downgrading the Women’s World Cup makes playing the World Cup less desirable. And as FIFA’s indifference to the women’s game becomes more and more obvious to players, they must ask themselves why they bother.

In the VAST majority of cases, women actually give up resources in order to compete on their national squads—many don’t receive much more training than they would otherwise. They get better training from their European and US clubs, and those clubs have rightly earned their loyalty. Most national team players don’t receive a living wage through their participation in this level of competition, almost none receive commercial endorsements. Most have other jobs, and many are the primary caretakers for their families. Participation at the international level turns their lives upside down.

These athletes deserve to play on grass.

A player like Megan Rapinoe comes out as gay to the media and it makes news for a few days. The NFL throws Hope Solo under the domestic violence bus, hoping to distract media from the real story (violence is endemic to its culture—the league takes no responsibility for the damage it does to players and to the people who love them)—and it works. Hope Solo’s private life makes more news than does the fact that Abby Wambach—a player no one associates with the word “political”—volunteered herself as the lead complainant in this case.

Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 9.34.42 AMAbby Wambach should be on the cover of Sports Illustrated for this. This is a tremendous assertion of her power as an athlete—and her determination to make a difference in the game.

Should players walk out, as a fan I would frankly be over the moon with gratitude. They really should strike. What is there to lose?

Let’s show the men how its done—because as far as I’m concerned men players have been absolute chickenshit when it comes to standing up to the OUTRAGEOUS corruption in their game!

We fans of the women’s game need to stand with Abby Wambach and with her colleagues. We need to stage our own boycott of the tournament, petition sponsors to withdraw their support and plan our own protests from the stands!

FIFA can’t even handle its SEXISM right

Screen shot 2014-10-28 at 7.16.22 PM

Most sex discrimination complaints break down not around the original discriminatory action, but around retaliation. Threats of retaliation escalate the problem created by the defendant’s sexism. They demonstrate a disregard for the process; they are easier to track and to prove. They are, also, against all sorts of laws.

So how does FIFA respond to the sex discrimination complaint filed by 40 women players, regarding FIFA and CSA’s decision to play the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf?

FIFA threatens players from a handful of FAs that it thinks it can bully—Mexico, Costa Rica and France (which wants to host the next women’s World Cup). Officials told women on these teams to withdraw their names from the complaint or they would not be selected to play and, in the case of France, their country might risk losing its future bid.

Result: said players withdraw their names—and file a retaliation complaint. And the number of players signing on to the original complaint jumps to 62.

Read the retaliation complaint here: Oct 2014 Letter-to-human-rights-tribunal-re-threats-against-players.

In the Hot Tub with Marta

Marta

I was watching ESPN the other day and caught a VERY fleeting glimpse of Marta in PUMA’s “Forever Faster/Calling All Troublemakers” commercial. This campaign’s narrative is centered on Usain Bolt, but framed by a series of other athletes, including Mario Balotelli and Marta. Depending on which national/linguistic edition of the ad you watch, you might catch a glimpse of Marta in a hot tub. All of the athletes appear in hot tubs. The only women athletes in these ads are Lexi Thompson (golfer) and Marta. Thompson appears in the tub with men, of course. Marta, kindof wonderfully, appears in a hot tub with a man and a woman. Nobody is near her. One must assume PUMA couldn’t handle putting her in the hot tub with only women.

I am picturing Marta arriving on set.

She throws on a bikini, as required. She’s body proud, doesn’t mind really. She leaves the dressing room, and heads to the set.

There she sees two men in the hot tub, and refuses to get in it.

Puma might use the word “troublemaker” to brand itself as badass, but Puma isn’t actually badass. It’s a corporate brand looking to sell out even the feeling of disenfranchisement. If it was really bad ass, it’d have had Marta in the hot tub with a gaggle of blond women draped over her just as they are draped over the men.

Marta demands women for the hot tub. This is what the male athletes get, after all. She declares: It’s sexism! Don’t they know she’s filed a law suit about this sort of thing? Negotiations ensue, and someone proposes that she climb into the hot tub with what looks like a straight couple. She says fuck it, OK. Collects a check that is, of course, much smaller than Balotelli’s and Bolt’s. Whatever.

Below the version of this ad with the most seconds of Marta that I could find.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,013 other followers

%d bloggers like this: