Attendance Record for Women’s Football! [whispers] was set in 1971

On March 30, in a new take on El Clasico, Barcelona’s women’s team beat Real Madrid. These two teams had played each other before, but never in Camp Nou. Women’s games are normally scheduled in stadiums used as training facilities for the men. Even big games, like Champions League matches, have been scheduled in smaller stadiums tucked out of the view of all but the most ardent fans. Fans, encouraged by a good promotional effort from the club, packed Camp Nou to watch their team clean Real Madrid’s clock. And when the game was over, fans stayed and sang to the team. That’s when I cried.

The club celebrated the win and quickly posted on Twitter that its crowd of 91,553 was the largest ever gathered for a women’s soccer match. I went from tears of joy to eye-roll, and then side-eye and then furrowed brows. Barcelona drew an even larger crowd for its next Champions League match; this story of record setting attendance figures at Camp Nou gained steam. It is now treated as a given, as fact. But it’s actually not true.

As numbers of news articles and television programs have detailed in recent years, Mexico hosted an international tournament in 1971. Tens of thousands of people turned up for those games: you can see the figures for those matches here, on a website maintained by sports statisticians. Two early matches featuring the home team drew 90,000; another, 80,000; the final was attended by 110,000.

In 2018, the BBC posted this lovely article about the history of that tournament. In 2019, the Guardian cited this tournament’s final as one of the most important moments in women’s football. There are quite well-research stories about this tournament out there.

Why, then, is this not mentioned in reporting on the fantastic turn-out for the women’s game this year? There is a really shitty answer for that. Those 1971 matches were not organized by FIFA. The tournament is thus regularly framed as an “unofficial” World Cup, as if the fact that it was not organized by FIFA means that it was not an actual, real, authentic football tournament. FIFA and UEFA enable this, along with news media which defers to the posture adopted by these governing bodies when they are confronted with the history of the women’s game. The history of women’s football does not belong to these organizations. In the early 1970s, FIFA and its partner organizations weren’t just uninterested in the women’s game—they actively worked to hobble it. How much that is true is not focus of this post, but let me just point out that FIFA hosted its first convention for the women’s game in 2019. (When they returned from that 1971 tournament, English players were punished by the FA with a ban; the manager who brought them was banned from the game, for life.)

We have over twenty years of World Cup and Olympic tournaments documenting the scale of interest in the women’s game: these attendance and audience statistics indicate that when the game is accessible, people show up. When it is not, people don’t. We have a hundred years of women’s football history manifesting that truth for us in so many different ways.

FIFA wants you to think that until they got involved with the game, there was nothing. That’s just a lie and its shameful to see a club participate in this gaslighting.

The history of people showing up for women’s sports is not one of slow development from primordial nothing! The people who went that 1971 match are real, actual football fans who showed up for a football match. That match was broadcast on television, covered by newspapers and was part of a series of international tournaments. Fans actually showed for — gasp — quarterfinals! Semis! Group matches! These matches are remembered, discussed, and cherished by the people who witnessed them. That tournament is a real, authentic, true part of the history of the game in Mexico, and one nice context for understanding impressive attendance figures for the still-young Liga MX Feminil (founded in 2017). If we weave 1971’s figures into list of records for attendance at women’s football matches we get something like this (WoSo stat nerds: I am very happy to correct):

  • 1971 110,000 Final Campeonato Mundial de Fútbol Femenil, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, MX | Mexico – Denmark
  • 2022 91,648 UEFA Champions League semifinal at Camp Nou in Barcelona, SP | Barcelona – Wolfsburg
  • 2022 91,553 UEFA Champions League quarterfinal at Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain | Barcelona – Real Madrid
  • 1999 90,185 World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA | USA – China
  • 1971 90,000 Group A Final Campeonato Mundial de Fútbol Femenil, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, MX | Mexico – Argentina
  • 1971 90,000 Group A Final Campeonato Mundial de Fútbol Femenil, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, MX | Mexico – England
  • 2012 80,203 Olympics Final at Wembley in London, UK | USA – Japan
  • 1971 80,000 Semifinal Campeonato Mundial de Fútbol Femenil, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, MX | Mexico – Italy
  • 2019 77,768 International Friendly at Wembley, London, UK | England – Germany
  • 1996 76,481 Olympics final, Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia | USA – China
  • 2016 70,454 Olympics semifinal, Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, BR | Brazil – Sweden
  • 1996 64,196 Olympics semifinal, Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia | Norway – USA
  • 2019 60,739 Copa de la Reina Semifinal, Wanda Metropolitano, Madrid, SP | Atlético Madrid – Barcelona

Anyone following the women’s game knows that very large numbers are possible for every world cup final, if women’s world cup finals are scheduled into the largest stadiums and properly marketed. Stade de France holds 20,000 more people than Groupama, which hosted the 2019 final. The 2011 final was held in Frankfurt; that stadium was at capacity at 48,817. There are nine stadiums in Germany with larger capacities. FIFA has a terrible history of treating the women’s game as an obligation, of neglecting the women’s game in its thinking, and undervaluing the World Cup tournament itself.

There are a lot of reasons to keep our own records and insist on the integrity of our own history. One might argue that FIFA’s interest in the women’s game is motivated primarily by the desire to ward off the emergence of alternative governing structures that grow around the spaces it neglects—organizations like that which staged the tournament in Mexico in 1971. Michele Krech makes this suggestion in a terrific essay on the contradictions between Fifa’s stated intentions and its material practice:

Given FIFA’s only very recent (and tentative) embrace of women’s football, we are early in the process of witnessing the extent to which a new phase of football, under the auspices of FIFA, “offers women discursive tools to oppose oppressive power relations” or rather “enmeshes them in normalizing discourses that limit their vision of who and what they can be.” We must therefore pay close attention to how this tension plays out in the implementation of FIFA’s Women’s Football Strategy and other initiatives purported to advance gender equality. Using girls and women to grow the game will be anti-feminist if it simply brings more of them into a sport premised on masculine (and other intersecting forms of) superiority and dominance. While women’s participation challenges this premise, overturning it will require active cooperation from those who have long dominated FIFA football.

Michele Krech, “Fifa for women or women for Fifa?: The inherent tensions in Fifa’s women’s football strategy”

What we are seeing now is what happens when you give the women’s game just a piece of what the men’s game gets in terms of stadiums, and media attention. It is important to understand that in the actualization of that potential we experience a version of the game that challenges what FIFA and its structures continue to think about not just the women’s game, but the sport.

FIFA wants you to think that the history of the women’s game begins in 1971, with a match played between France and the Netherlands, attended by 1,500 people. UEFA, FAs, clubs want you to think there was nothing until they got involved. They want you to forget the history of the women’s game because the culture of their organizations is threatened by a history which suggests that other organizations and networks are capable of putting on successful tournaments and stewarding the game.

Returning to Barcelona: I cried when when fans sang to their team not because I never thought it was possible to have a full Camp Nou for a women’s match, I cried because I’ve known for so long that it was. It is really, really hard, I think, to communicate that feeling to people who haven’t shared it.

In sum: it’s important to remember that 110,000 audience record, set by fans in Mexico City in 1971, as the actual standing record for the largest-ever audience. When we forget them, we contribute to the erasure of generations of fans who have been here for this game all along and we let the gentlemen of FIFA, UEFA, and our FAs off the hook for what they did and do to the women’s game when they think no one is watching.

Jaime Lauriano: morte súbita (2014)

morte súbita from Jaime Lauriano on Vimeo.

from the artist’s vimeo page:

direção (director) jaime lauriano
direção de fotografia e câmera (cinematography) cassio luiz rothschild
edição e finalização (film editing) onze corujas

The Brazilian team which won the 1970 World Cup is considered by many to be the greatest of all time. In a spectacle transmitted, live, for the first time for the Brazilian people through television, this achievement was transformed into a heroic feat. With strong media coverage then, the Brazilian team’s victory in 1970 was used as a propaganda tool for the Brazilian military regime.

“Morte Subita (Death Sudden)” consists of a projection with people covering their faces with shirts of the Brazilian Soccer Team. In the background, listen to an audio that mixes sounds of football stadiums (shouts, clapping, fireworks) with sounds of protests and street demonstrations (bombs, shots, shouts, etc); as the camera tracks these people, we hear a sports announcer recite the names of dead and disappeared politicians in the year 1970, the hardest year of the Brazilian military dictatorship.

Sexism, Corruption, Sports (a brief note)

If you have yet to read Meg Linehan’s story about NWSL coach Paul Riley, you should read it now. And if you aren’t following the story about sexual abuse within Haiti’s national women’s team program, you should catch up. Not a women’s sports fan and think sexual abuse is just a women’s issue? You will want to read this, or this, or this, or this.

Struggling to understand why sexual abuse is such a strong feature of organized sports?

Patriarchy is a specific form of corruption: men only dominate by virtue of theft and betrayal. They only occupy positions of power and authority by working hard to undermine and destroy people whose competency and talent challenge their sense of entitlement. In patriarchal structures, sex operates as a vector for the accumulation of power, and wealth. One feels entitled to the bodies of one’s subordinates. And a whole sexual culture — white, heterosexist, patriarchal, homophobic, cis, binary — normalizes this association of power with sexual access.

Women, gay men, trans men and women, non-binary and genderqueer people in these systems become targets because they, in essence, are sex. Territory to be colonized. Sexualized forms of hazing and sexual abuse of men and boys within patriarchal, straight homosocial spaces operate as a means for expressing and consolidating power—you become implicated in a set of “crimes”—if you speak of it, you exit the scene.

In systems like this, that sexualized performance of abusive authority is treated as a form of competency—even professional achievement.

A few years back, I remember sitting in a meeting with men in charge at my campus. We were talking about some issues related to sexual harassment charges. In some of the cases we were talking about, women had been bad actors—enablers, mainly. Ironic, isn’t it, someone said. No, I replied. In these corrupt systems, the only women allowed close to that form of power are those who collaborate with it. Either by operating as an abuser’s enabler, or as an alibi — “I haven’t had any problems, so my example demonstrates that there is no problem.” Usually, those women end up under the bus.

As Brenda Elsey and I have argued, this shit sits on a continuum with the profound corruption that rots this sport from the inside out. Professional sports does not have to be like this—it really and truly doesn’t. The people running the game will have you thinking that the “ironies” of the system are key to its pleasures and its profits. This is flat out bullshit. OK. I am going to go punch something.

ACFC: Not Even a Women’s Football Club?

I pulled the above screenshot from Angel City FC’s “our story” page. How could anyone involved in marketing think “we’re not even a women’s football club” is an OK thing to put on the website for a women’s football club?

Reading this sentence, I recalled a year I spent working at a women’s college in Virginia — this place had no women’s studies program and was run by people who had internalized misogyny and racism so very deeply that the students went into revolt — I remember one student taking the mic at a town hall and telling the college president “You are a women’s college that is ashamed of the fact that it is a women’s college.” When I read “not even a women’s football club,” I remembered the hurt in that student’s voice.

I feel really hurt by this language. It contradicts the club’s too-good-to-be-true branding. Supporters like myself also feel it telegraphs the betrayal we are experiencing as we witness the club reproduce the patriarchal privilege which has marginalized women coaches in the game.

Lots of people new to feminist work struggle with the idea of women-centered organizations and structures, and are also challenged by what it means to center a practice in women and to also practice inclusion within these women-centered spaces. You can’t practice inclusion as a feminist if you hold onto white supremacist, homophobic, transphobic ideas about who and what a woman is—so really digging into feminist work always includes a confrontation with the way the term “woman” is defined. That’s HARD work and it is not a given that people in women’s sports have gotten any real training in that. That is just ONE zone of difficulty particular to feminist work in a women’s centered organization. There are others, like: confronting and working through the degree to which traits associated with toxic masculinity are treated in our society as hallmarks of professionalism and authority: women can and do buy into that system. Another: the sense that because your thing is centered in women, it will be valued less by the world at large. You actually have to accept some parts of that because the work you do is a direct challenge to patriarchal systems of value.

So, fans are nervous.

From where I sit, it looks like some of the people running ACFC are suffering from gendered forms of confusion and ambivalence — how else to understand the mixed signal combo of “not even a women’s football club” and the ultra femme crest and salmon pink ACFC has chosen for itself?

Good god ACFC please strip every layer of apology for the fact that the club is a women’s club from your discourse. And remember that you do not need to feminize the visual iconography of the club to remind people that the club is a women’s club. As the USWNT has shown us again and again and again and again and again and again and again: a great women’s team appeals to sports fans. Women are sports fans. So are other people! And it is really, really fun to experience an alignment between one’s love for the sport and one’s commitment to women. I will never ever forget the feeling that came over me in the stands at the World Cup final, when I understood that the USWNT fan section was changing “equal pay.” NEVER. I have never in my life felt so in love with the game as in that moment. The politics of women’s sports is really dense and intense: it is always best to run towards the white hot fire of that intensity than away from it.

I am guessing that ACFC folks were going for Barça’s “mes que un club” vibe, but good god I WILL WORK FOR YOU FULL TIME if you need an English professor to tell you how to communicate that spirit without treating the women of women’s football as a problem that must be transcended! I will come down there and give you all an intro to women’s studies course! I’m ready to retire from the University of California and make it my job to save you from yourselves because I love this sport and want very much to love my home team.

You cannot market women’s sports as a cause. You have to actually get the cause, and then build your brand around that. Horse. Then cart.


Note: Almost immediately after I posted this, some readers expressed anger on twitter about the lack of a non-binary framework in my writing here. Most people who read me here (and on twitter) have been reading my work for years and I’ve earned their trust (this blog normally sees only a handful of visitors a day). But of course people who are just seeing this have zero reason to trust me on anything.

When I say that in feminist work in women’s centered spaces the category woman should be engaged critically, this is what I mean: it should not be weaponized as we see in trans-phobic legislative violence we are seeing conducted in the name of protecting women’s sports. Women’s sports itself structurally embodies the problem of not only the gender binary, but of an apparatus that enforces radical gender segregation. This leaves no space for non-binary athletes. BUT, and this is a big one: athletes have a really interesting history of defying binarized structures and making space for non-binary athletes. People play across this line all the time and there is a rich practice of making this space within women’s sports. That’s the version of the game I most love.

I apologize to readers who experienced the above as harmfully oblivious to the violence of the gender binary and all of its enforcing structures.

One person criticizing me said that they’d read the ACFC statement as expressing non-binary possibilities. I champion that optimism and would be ecstatic to learn that this is the club’s aim. Perhaps I should apologize to all readers here for my cynicism!

Carolee Schneemann, Kitch (figure skater)

Artist’s postcard (photo from auction). See also Ice Skating Naked.

Khaled Jarrar: Concrete

Marcin Dudek: The Lure of the Arena

The Lure of the Arena, 2019 — a bit of football art, to recall the thing I know many of us can’t wait to get back to. Sitting in the stands together. Art historian and fantastic thinker of sports-art Przemyslaw Strozek wrote to me about Marcin Dudek a few years ago. Dudek tends to work with the situation of the fan/spectator, and has done some really provocative work exploring the relationship between sports, art and violence. Click on that first link for a slide show & text about Lure. I love this artist’s work, and find myself turning to it on a day when I’m planning to see some of the guys I used to play with.

The Joy of Ashlyn Harris

 

Within a sexist setting, women’s joy is valuable only as an image that serves men’s pleasure. Within queer and feminist settings that pleasure circulates, echoes, accumulates. It is shared out, given away, taken back, stored, recycled, amplified, converted into thought and energy or just left to be what it is. It is never just one thing. It is selfish and generous, sharp and blurry, spontaneous and planned.

The cultural minimization of the value of women’s joy has a big impact on the development of women’s sports. It is hard to start a women’s team when the women in your community are taking care of their families in addition to holding down jobs. Those women will need to argue (with themselves as well as their husbands, children, parents) for the importance of their game over the importance of care-taking. That is very, very difficult to do. For a 40-something year old woman, there is no argument for her game beyond its importance to her pleasure.

The trolls running the country would have you think that progressive spaces look like tortured graduate seminars in which everyone is trying to prove how smart and “correct” they are. And while, sure, some spaces are a lot like that, really and truly inclusively queer feminist communities can generate an energy much closer to the vibe of this USWNT or, reaching back to a moment earlier this year, the vibe created by UCLA’s gymnastics squad — as represented by Katelyn Ohashi.

Women’s sports and women athletes — like the Williams sisters — increase the sense of the possible and expand our sense of how joy, desire and power can express themselves.

Yesterday, when she called for more love and less hate, Megan Rapinoe spoke from that place of joy. Do not let anyone tell you that that “more love” is a limp political sentiment — whoever is telling you that has clearly never felt the full force of a 72-hour champagne-fueled chaotic gay energy wave, never mind figured out how to harness it!

Alors

 

Once the last match was finished, as the winners celebrated and the losers put their arms around each other, the stadium thrummed with the grinding beat of Stromae’s 2009 hit, “Alors on danse.”

As fantastic as that song is; it is a VERY strange thing to play at the end of a World Cup final.

The gist of these lyrics: it’s all pointless. We are misery itself and dance to forget. It’s all a grind; we just get deeper and deeper dans la merde. On danse because what’s the use.  It’s an anthem for alienation and depression. Go team!

The Voices in Her Head

Screen Shot 2019-06-26 at 2.41.10 PM

[Revised*]

On March 15 of this year, FIFA approved the use of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in the Women’s World Cup. This is, in general, a good thing. VAR was used in last year’s men’s tournament without too much trouble. But the implementation of VAR in the Women’s World Cup has not gone very well at all. Today, Pierluigi Collina, the chair of FIFA’s referee committee, hosted a press conference and reviewed this tournament’s refereeing statistics and fielded questions — if you are down for 90 minutes of VAR spin, you can watch it here. The questions (which start about an hour in) were pretty hard hitting and the panel dodged them – one gentleman, for example, asked why Asian, African and South American teams have seemed more vulnerable to VAR decisions than European teams. He was told to read the rulebook.

Like many people watching this tournament, I’ve been wondering why the VAR use has been so particularly awful. Luis Paez-Pumar, writing for Deadspin, provides an excellent overview of the misery caused by the combination of the last minute institution of new rules of the game, the amplified power of VARs, and FIFA’s general contempt for the women’s game. He writes:

FIFA listened (belatedly) to calls for VAR at the World Cup, and it gave its unprepared referees the unwanted responsibility of properly implementing new rules that were only made official six days before the first game of the tournament. These changes were made under the name of equality, but it’s hard to imagine FIFA implementing similarly dramatic changes so haphazardly coming into a men’s World Cup. FIFA set its referees up to fail at the Women’s World Cup, all in the name of technology no one fully understands and rules no one particularly likes

I have something to add to the running list of shitty FIFA things informing this situation. Every one of the 15 people initially listed as working this tournament as a Video Assistant Referee is a man and not one (as far as I can tell) has a history of working in women’s football.* (By the way, the latter may mean they don’t have much of a history of working with women, in general.)

Screen Shot 2019-06-26 at 2.48.16 PM

Before I dive in, let me be clear: I do not think that having women leading the VAR Room will necessarily fix things. What I do think is this: the fact that the VAR list did not include women or people with experience refereeing women’s matches is symptomatic of the sexist rot which plagues FIFA’s involvement in the women’s game. [Women are working in the VAR room as Assistant Video Assistant Referees: one woman per match team.]

There is a reason why those fifteen VARs are men and why they do not have experience officiating at the highest levels of the women’s game. This is the outcome of FIFA’s practice of maintaining separate referee lists for men’s and women’s football. It was not always this way. In a 2002 post on FIFA’s website, Sonia Denoncourt (the former head of referee development) explains:

In 1994, FIFA took the unprecedented step of appointing the first four female assistant referees in the world. These women were included in the universal (read: male) list. In 1995, FIFA followed this up with significant changes for women referees and assistant referees, by introducing FIFA’s first ever list of women referees just in time for the Women’s World Cup in Sweden.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for the conversations in which FIFA administrators debated the benefits of a universal (meaning all-gender) referee list! Denoncourt’s brief article suggests that the misogyny of national federations was so intense that it was hard to imagine working in any of its contexts and getting an education in much beyond one’s capacity to endure harassment. More than implied in this article was the necessity of this separation in order to create a space in which women might have a chance to gain experience and to do so in a minimally sexist environment. (The article also expresses some really quite regressive views about the differences between men and women athletes; it’s worth reading as a document of what I imagine was one of the more forward thinking perspectives on the sport within FIFA structures.)

There are manifold problems, however, with the total segregation of referee pools.

There is a tendency, in sports, to treat girls and women’s sports as a training ground for inexperienced referees. (In the United States, Civil Rights law actually makes it illegal to do that in most contexts.) This expresses a broad devaluation, in sports and in the world, of women’s capacity to lead and govern men.

Furthermore, women’s sports are held at a sub-professional level by governing institutions run by men whose misogyny is often worse than that one finds amongst the general population. So, if you only allow women to referee women, and those women work in countries with an amateur-level game at home, those women will hit a glass ceiling hard and early. Women’s leagues, furthermore, currently do not use VAR. The only referees with experience working with VAR are those working in the men’s game and in those leagues using it, VAR is still new.

Women refereeing this World Cup work in men’s leagues, however, and a few work as referees in leagues using VAR. To name just two — Bibiana Steinhaus (Bundesligue), Stéphanie Frappert (Ligue 1). Just a few months ago, in fact, the FFF assigned Frappert as the center referee to a Ligue 1 match. The federation explained that they did so in response to a request from FIFA to support her exposure to top-flight matches in advance of the World Cup. Frappert, one learns with just a little more googling, has experience working for Ligue 1 as a Video Assistant Referee. She worked 8 matches this past season. I point this out to emphasize the fact that it is not the case that there are no women with VAR experience. There have not been, until this World Cup, women with experience working in the VAR room at a World Cup — which is the result of FIFA’s unwillingness to use the men’s game to support the development of women referees.

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FIFA’s request of the FFF strikes me as interesting — it’s a sign that the people governing refereeing know that they have a pipeline problem, as is the language of its press release describing an all-male VAR team (“VAR will be part of a remarkable project as it will unite women and men referees in what we are certain will be a successful tournament.”) It’s also a sign that FIFA treats the Women’s World Cup as an afterthought. There should have been no question about whether VAR would be used in the Women’s World Cup, and women should have gone to Russia specifically to train with it last year. There is no reason why the men’s game can’t be a platform for the development of the women’s game.

Referee development is a big part of FIFA’s discourse about the World Cup’s function as an instrument for lifting the level of the game globally. From what I can see from my admittedly limited research on this issue, it looks as if in the 1990s and 2000s, FIFA punted the project of developing women referees because FIFA executives were not interested in taking on the misogyny of its national federations. The gender segregated list was one way of addressing that as it forced national federations to start working with women at least in women’s games; but it also tied the project of the development of women referees to the same federations that inhibit the development of the women’s game.

Basically, with that gender segregated list, FIFA extends the women’s game a hand while keeping its boot on her neck.

If FIFA is actually committed to supporting the development of women referees, it should have a universal referee list and work towards gender parity at every level of the sport. The minute FIFA started working with VAR, it should have included women referees in that process.

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In the press conference today, officials could not deny that governance of the match has been more aggressive that it was in 2018. Statistically, however, it is not out of line with the recent U20 tournament, a fact that raises more questions than it answers. In this tournament, if feels like VARs have micromanaged the referee, interfered with the match’s pacing and turned the game in a direction that seems unfair.

Perhaps this is just a sign of the times — so much of what passes as technical advancement makes the quality of our lives so very worse. VAR has made it harder to trust the technical apparatus — it amplifies the lack of trust we have in FIFA itself.

Returning to gender: in the imbalanced optics of this situation we have a great expression of one of the very biggest contradictions shaping FIFA’s governance of the women’s game.

About fifteen years ago, in rejecting a woman player’s request to transfer to a second-tier men’s club in Mexico, FIFA explained that “there must be a clear separation of between men’s and women’s football.” They’ve stuck to that line ever since.

But the truth is that the separation of women’s football from men’s football is not at all clear. If that were true, women would have total executive authority over the game. They would determine its funding levels, they would make decisions regarding player salaries and support, they would negotiate endorsements. They would govern the game’s rules — they would make the decisions about things like hijab, for example and set guidelines regarding who is eligible to play on a women’s team. If we take the players themselves as the center of the women’s game, we needn’t step very far at all from that center to find the game being run by men.

That situation is visualized in this tournament by images of (mostly) men sitting in what looks like a war room as they supervise a game played and refereed by women.

The contradictions in FIFA’s logic regarding the necessity for absolute clarity in the difference between the men’s and women’s game is made manifest in the fact the men in that VAR room do not work in women’s football. If the differences are so clear, so important to the sport’s integrity then how are those men actually qualified to do this supervisory work? And if they can do that work, then why couldn’t women work as VARs in Russia? Or at the U20 men’s tournament in Poland?

I wonder what the men working as Video Assistant Referees for the Women’s World Cup are thinking about women footballers and referees. I wonder what they are thinking about the difference that gender makes. How might race and gender be impacting the way that the VARs are reading the screens? Who does a freeze frame help, or hurt? We do not see the game through a race and gender neutral lens unless we’ve made a commitment to unlearning how racism and sexism pattern how we see what we see. I find it hard to believe that the decisions made by a group of men charged with reviewing the decisions of a team of women are not shaped by their attitudes about the women and the women’s game.

This, hopefully, will be the first and last world cup to give us this optic of a battery of men with no history in the women’s game supervising women referees. Maybe this situation will force FIFA to give up its antiquated policy of segregated referee lists. Maybe we are inching towards a more gender dynamic environment in the sport.

As it happens, during his press conference Collina reviewed a VAR call from (I think) last night’s match. When he showed a short clip of the VAR team at work, I spied a pony tail, two seats from the left: is that a woman referee in training? My bet is that it is Sian Massey-Ellis, getting herself ready not just for the next World Cup, but for next season’s Premiership. Oh, check that. It’s Scotland’s Kylie Cockburn! Screen Shot 2019-06-26 at 8.01.54 PM.png

 

*I first drafted this working off of FIFA’s own press releases re VAR. I’ve been watching matches in person, in bars and missed that there are women working in the VAR room as Assistant Video Assistant Referees — eg Oleksandra Ardasheva, who worked the France-Brazil match. My first draft didn’t reflect this fact; I’ve gone through the post and edited to finesse my main points, which still work. Thank you Twitter for sorting me out!

 

 

 

 

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