It might still carry the now expletive acronym, but the F**a Women’s World Cup might be the best chance we have to still believe in football.
Corruption scandal, Chuck Blazer singing like a canary, Jack Warner blustering and Sepp Blatter scuttling away from Fifa’s sinking ship: if ever there was a time when we need a tournament to take our mind off just what a dirty business modern, corporate football can be, it’s now. Thankfully, this year’s seminal tournament in Canada could be just the antidote to Fifa’s poison.
It will be hard to try and focus on what’s happening on the pitch rather than in New York, Trinidad or Zurich, but at least this year’s World Cup has a fighting chance of being noticed by people in the UK who wouldn’t normally watch the women’s game.
The BBC are showing every match live on either BBC2, BBC3 or the BBC Sport website.
The first game, between hosts Canada and China, kicks off this Saturday at 11pm on BBC3, with England beginning their campaign next Tuesday afternoon (5:30pm BBC2). Whisper it quietly: England even have a chance of winning it.
Not a great one, admittedly: BBC presenter Jacqui Oatley reminds us that they have never won a World Cup knockout match. Breaking that run, rather than tournament victory, has to be the ambition this year (it would still be better than the men’s performance in Brazil 2014).
But it’s not just Lianne Sanderson, Steph Houghton and the England national side who are clamouring for attention against the Fifa backdrop. Canada 2015 is set to be the most high profile women’s tournament to date, with 24 teams from the United States to Thailand taking part and around 900,000 tickets already sold for the action.
If you want a sense of what a World Cup without the influence of Blatter could feel like, Canada might give you a first hint: neither the hosts nor favourites USA voted for the Swiss last Friday before he stepped down. While the lack of corporate backing in the women versus men’s game is a worry long term, right now it could be a blessing in disguise. A young but rapidly growing sport (where American stars are nevertheless already able to earn over £1 million a year,) women’s football has the chance to show the men how investment can help rather than hinder national and international competition; that it doesn’t have to lead to corruption.
Not that the Women’s World Cup should be patronised as some kind of sporting nirvana existing entirely above politics. In October last year, 84 of the game’s highest profile players filed a lawsuit against Fifa over the use of artificial pitches, claiming that to deny women the right to play on proper turf amounted to gender discrimination. A tweeted picture from US striker Sydney Leroux saves a thousand words.
This is why soccer should be played on grass! pic.twitter.com/fsNGi27oRY
— Sydney Leroux Dwyer (@sydneyleroux) April 15, 2013
The suit was dropped in January, but it’s still a shame the green shoots of this global event aren’t formed of actual grass.
What the controversy showed however was that this generation of players weren’t just going to “settle” with the promise of a higher profile and a Fifa pat on the head: they wanted to show what they could do on the best surface possible.
It may not have got the level, grassy playing field, but the Women’s World Cup at least now has the platform to show us that, despite Fifa’s filth, football really can be a beautiful game.