Monday, 7 September 2009

Women, rubbish or what?

GUEST POST from Professor Adam Foster

I have spent the past few weeks enjoying the women’s European football championships. As per the stereotype of an Englishman, I am football obsessed (although not by the Premiership) and consider myself fairly knowledgeable about what constitutes a good game of football.

The women’s game at the highest level has it all, passion, skill, luck, cheating, fouling and dodgy referees, and is excellent entertainment. It is particularly attractive when you consider the relative cost and availability of tickets for this kind of prestige tournament, not to mention the accessibility and reliability of the tournament venues.

In light of this, I was surprised and disappointed by the lack of coverage in many media outlets. In particular, the only comment I found from the Guardian newspaper, usually a fairly decent source by UK standards, was on their podcast Football Weekly.

They had received several comments from listeners about their lack of coverage of the women’s Euro, and the host asked his team of “pundits” why. The immediate response was “Because it’s rubbish.” I cannot imagine a similar response on a Tennis Weekly or Athletics Weekly podcast, not that those sports would suffer from such a lack of coverage.

Why is it, that in football this kind anachronistic “laddish” behaviour is tolerated? Is it because the best women’s team, Germany, would probably lose to the Luxembourg men’s team? So what…James Ward could probably beat both the Williams sisters, and the world record holding women’s 100 m runner, Flo Jo, wouldn’t have even qualified for the Olympics in the men’s competition. Yet millions of people watch women’s sports, as most people want to be entertained and see people achieve greatness regardless of gender.

To arbitrarily decide that certain sports are only for men is ridiculously short sighted. The enclaves of “Men’s” sports are increasingly isolated and eroding, and their defence echoes the desperate revisionism of other failing institutions.

Unfortunately, I see the influence of similar prejudice on a daily basis, as science is another field where men overwhelmingly dominate the authorities. This means men define the conditions for success, and the only “right” path is the one well trodden by male ancestors. Hence, aggressive posturing, conceited declarations and absolutism are characteristic of a good scientist, whereas doubt, caution and humility are all signs of weakness. So a good scientist is a wise scientist…very dangerous.

In this environment, either women bend to the prevailing winds of testosterone or break…there is no room for their world view.

Yet, as in sports, their approach is often superior for the overall aim – in sport, the aim is entertainment, in science it is understanding. We need a lot more rubbish in both.


  1. I completely agree. One reason why there isn't much excitement about women's football is because no one covers it. The media has to accept that it creates demand as well as responds to it. At least the blogosphere can mount a defense!

  2. Some attention (just too early to claim credit ;-)), but even then it just emphasizes that only the men's game matters

  3. pretty mainstream attention to it in germany. maybe that's why our team is better, more motivated. ;P
    ps: you guys need a tag cloud, code on my blog.

  4. Totally agree. And w.r.t. the Guardian coverage, the women's game actually made it onto the front page of the Sports section in the print edition, BUT...
    With a picture of Kelly Smith, captioned 'Sue Smith...'


  5. I have refereed some women's football. There is no denying that they could not compete with men, but that is not the point. Neither could under 14s or veterans. My local park team would be thrashed by Manchester United. It is about finding your level and having a good game.

    Any fool can win - sport teaches you how to lose. It also teaches you about teamwork, discipline, and it provides exercise. Sport is for ALL.