A couple of weeks ago Marco Aurelio Cunha, the Head of Co-ordination for women’s football in Brazil, claimed that the growing success of the women’s game was due to players looking ‘more beautiful’ by putting on make-up, doing their hair and wearing shorter shorts.
Incredible right? The guy in charge of developing the women’s game in one of the world’s greatest footballing nations believes its success is based entirely on superficial traits.
Anyone who has watched any of the Women’s World Cup will know that Cunha’s warped view is far from reality. This rise of the women’s game has been earned through blood, sweat and tears - the results of which have been on show over the past few weeks.
Admittedly, I was not overly excited in the run up to this year’s tournament, mainly because I believed that women’s football was still a long way behind the lofty heights of the men’s game. How wrong I was...
We are now just hours away from the final and in the lead up to the big match I’ve tuned in to every game I could. The quality of football on show is staggering and I’m not the only one to sit up and pay attention. The tournament has smashed viewing records across the globe and stadiums throughout Canada have been packed to the rafters. It has been a revelation.
This year’s World Cup stands testament to how much the women’s game has progressed in such a short space of time. Rewind a decade or so and female football players were part-timers, being ridiculed, considered unfeminine and written-off as a legitimate part of the world’s favourite sport. Pioneers of the women’s game had to shout to be heard.
It seems the shouting is still going on, particularly in light of Cunha’s comments, although more often than not the performances on the pitch are now doing the talking.
The women’s game has evolved at breakneck speed, particularly across Europe, the America’s and Asia. It has become much more professional and initial backing has seen more resource dedicated to development of the sport.
An improved infrastructure means more opportunities, both for women to get in to football and for more coaches to empower players to reach the peak of the sport. The result is a greater pool of players to recruit at club and international level and we’re seeing the knock-on effects. Players are quicker, stronger and more technically gifted.
Admittedly there’s still a way to go until women’s football is on an even plain with the men’s game, both in terms of financial clout and performances on the pitch. Double-figure thrashings and the odd bit of comical defending still creep in to the women's game - both of which we have seen in this year’s World Cup.
The reason for this could be explained by the addition of more nations to the international tournament. For the first time ever, 24 teams were competing, that’s eight more than in previous tournaments. More teams on show equals more teams from lower down in the world rankings and the meeting of established and emerging female footballing nations. What we then see is a clear gulf in class – take Germany’s 10-0 win over the Ivory Coast for example.
The cynics will say that the inclusion of more nations is evidence that this gap will continue to grow. However, I see it as another sign of progression.
The tournament has been beamed to every corner of the globe, creating heroes and role models for aspiring female footballers. This has been a particularly powerful tool in galvanising a nation’s interest in the women’s game – take England’s dramatic semi-final exit or China’s progress through the tournament for example.
Public interest then relates to private interest (corporate backing), and that’s what is integral for the continued development on of the women's game post-world cup. In the past sponsors have been shy to dip in to their pockets, but it will be hard to ignore the frenzy created around women’s football this summer.
Tomorrow the United States and Japan will meet in a repeat of the 2011 World Cup Final. Regardless of who lifts the trophy it’s going to be a great spectacle and the crowning glory of what has been an incredible few weeks for women’s football.
Make sure you tune in and see why Marco Aurelio Cunha should be feeling very foolish.