Friday, December 31, 2010

Note to espnW: a woman is not a horse

Zenyatta: "Am I not a woman and a horse?"
ESPN recently launched a website for women sports fans, espnW. Today the site listed its top ten stories in women's sports. In cooking up this list, ESPN adopted a flexible definition of the category "woman" by including Zenyatta, the horse, as #4.

Setting aside the rather large problem regarding the network's confusion regarding the category "woman," the list is a rather bland summary of accomplishments. The biggest stories are not always the ones we want to hear - a real list of the biggest stories for women in sports would include a mix of the good and the bad. I've approached this from a journalism standpoint, and have forwarded a few of the stories that I think are most important.  This is quite different from listing accomplishments of female athletes.

  • Mary Kom wins 5th women’s world boxing championship. Indian women dominate the sport and are poised to bring the first Olympic gold medal to the country in the London Olympics.
  • Two South African players charge national women's team coach with sexual harassment – accuse coach of prowling dormitory at night and dropping players from the squad who reject his advances.
  • U Conn claims record for longest winning streak in basketball – Stanford claims honor of breaking 90 game run. Meanwhile the accomplishments of the individual athletes (most notably Maya Moore) are ignored in end-of-the-year awards for athletes.
  • FC Gold Pride - possibly the best women's club team ever assembled - wins season, and folds: WPS is the most competitive professional women’s soccer league in the world, but struggles to win sponsors and is overwhelmed by media blackout.
  • Nigerian women’s soccer team become first African [women's] team of either gender to play in a World Cup Final – as the national association is swamped in scandal, their remarkable achievement goes unnoticed.
  • Mexico beats the US women's national soccer team in a crucial World Cup qualifying match. Sends the latter to a desperate play-off with Italy, and initiates what fans hope will be an extension of the infamous border rivalry in the men's game to the women's game. 
  • Ines Sainz harrassed by New York Jets, international coverage of story revives sexist attitudes about women journalists and sports coverage. Brett Favre sends explicit pictures and texts to hostess working for Jets, given a slap on the wrist fine by the NFL.
  • Serena Williams wins 4th Wimbleton singles trophy, breaks tournament record with 89 aces across her career. 13th title puts her 6th in list of grand slam champions.
  • ESPN names horse as a top story in women's sports.  We LIKE horses. That doesn't MAKE us horses. 
[Since publishing this, I wrote a mildly satirical post for The Guardian's "Comment is Free" page: ESPN makes mare's nest of women in sport. I think I do my best work in the comments section.]

BBC story on Mary Kom, 5 time Women's World Boxing Championship, from Manipur, India

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dancing with India's Football Star

In the interest of keeping things light, here are some highlights from the 2009 season of India's Dancing with the Stars. The winner that year was Baichung Bhutia, the country's most accomplished footballer. Bhutia is responsible for forming a player's union in India and is a public figure in the best sense - using his celebrity to raise money for good causes, taking stands on issues that matter to him (like Tibetan independence), and devoting much time and energy to the development of resources for Indian soccer players. Bhutia was just named captain for his team's Asia Cup campaign.

The challenges of Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa are really fun to watch. Celebrities are paired with renown Bollywood choreographers who are stars in their own right. The judges are hilarious and make me wish I understood Hindi. The 2009 season was also notable for featuring Hard Kaur, India's first female hip hop star.

Bhutia appears at about 3:30 min.

Bhutia appears at about 3:50, and is totally charming as he takes ribbing for his lack of facial expressions.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Holiday Cheer: a football music mix

In the interest of spreading holiday cheer, a mix of the amusing, the interesting & the sublime:

New Order, The World In Motion. Produced for England's 1990 World Cup campaign, it features John Barnes singing along and rapping at about 2:30. (He's not bad!) Is it my imagination, or were footballers goofier circa 1990?

Richy Pitch f. M.anifest, Blackstar. I've posted references to Football Jama before - one of my absolute favorite football-inspired songs. This track is only tangentially related to football. Pitch spent two years in Ghana, absorbing the scene into his music practice. It's a sweet video, and a great song. Ghana, I think, has produced more songs inspired by its national team than any other country - aside from Brazil, that is.

On the subject of Brazil: Elis Regina, Meio de Campo. This would be what I meant by sublime:

TWO players collaborated on this gem. Basile Boli and Chris Waddle both played at Olympique de Marseille and apparently bonded over a love of pop music. You can see the latter commenting for ESPN.

Neeraj Shrindhar, Ishq Ka Kalma. This is from the 2007 Bollywood film Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal. I do not know where to start. I love everything about it, especially the backup dancers - women in football kits. Not sexed up costumes, but football kits. Minus the shoes - because you really can't dance like that in football boots. Note the number of hits this video has had: 1.1 million at last check. (See this clip, of Billo Rani from the same film - actually, just see the film - you can watch it instantly on Netflix.)

Last and certainly least: Football and Music pointed me to Alleluia, a 1986 Italian Christmas charity record featuring "The Football Stars" - all players active in the Italian league, including Ruud Gullit and Michel Platini. I would describe the recording as plodding, and labored. Seems to have been inspired by "We Are the World" (which was recorded in 1985). Some lovely football nut recorded this off Italian TV, but could only take 4:17 of it -  the video cuts out before the song's no doubt awful conclusion. 

Buon Natale!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Good Intentions: notes on the WPS as cause & business

Stuff you won't see on TV (Brazil v Canada)
Photo by Sereias da Vila
It's been a harrowing month for fans of women's soccer. This year's WPS champions, FC Gold Pride, folded. The team is thought to be one of the best assembled, but the club's backers were not prepared to weather more years of financial loss. The Chicago Red Stars - which has a strong fan base - announced that they were suspending operations for the upcoming season. No one expected to break even in the league's first few years, but few expected to lose the money they are losing - the league has yet to recover from the impact of global economic disaster. I think lots of us can relate to that. Other teams will come into the league but the upcoming season only features six sides, all on the east coast. That said, there may be two teams from California entering the league in two years and there are rumors of Santos supporting a US-based sister team. And much of the news on the international level is good: better competition (e.g. Brazil and Canada's recent performances in São Paolo) will make for an exciting World Cup.

As all this unfolds, sports journalists quite rightly turn their attention to the Women's Professional Soccer league and offer up their diagnoses for its rocky start. There are a lot of good takes on the league's struggles, and the more we have, the better. (All White Kit is my go-to blog for all thing women's soccer.) Of course, I'd trade those grim end-of-the-season stories for regular, consistent coverage of women's soccer throughout the season.

In the reporting on the WPS that we do have, there is one kind of observation I could do without. Noah Davis, in his mostly on-point diagnosis of the state of women's soccer in the US, points to a tweet from a Washington Post journalist:
Steve Goff...noted, "WPS is becoming a cause instead of a business. Can't sustain a pro sports league on good intentions." His thoughts echo those of many who cover the sport.
I've lost track of how many times I've read or heard some version of this statement in discussions of women's soccer, and witnessed these nods of recognition and agreement.

From Puma/WPS 2010 ad campaign
I would like to ask where this sense of "cause" is coming from, and why it feels like such a burden to these folks. The WPS marketing budget is so miniscule that one can hardly assert that any fan of women's soccer has been overwhelmed by its message. That message has, in my experience, tried in fact to stay as far from "cause" as possible. (This ad is my favorite.) But of course, the "cause" is always there in women's sports. Whether it's spoken or not.

Being a fan of women's soccer - hell, nearly any women's sport - means that some part of what you do becomes feminist, whether you identify yourself with that word or not.  I don't have a problem with feeling like the WPS is a cause. Fans actually connect around "cause" more than "business" - the cause is what gets us to the game, the business is what makes us complain about the price of the ticket.

And there is something obnoxious about the statement "Can't sustain a pro sports league on good intentions." It is just a tweet, but it does seem to capture a broader "common sense." Let's look at the NFL as a model for what happens when you throw out "good intentions" and embrace the logic of "business." We could look at Liverpool, or any number of severely leveraged clubs. We could look at stadium development. Or FIFA. Actually - why stick to sports? We could talk global warming and the environment. Or mortgages and the housing market.

I would rather see the WPS fail than become like the NFL. I do not need women's soccer to be like the English Premier League, or like any business that makes a few people wealthy and the rest of the world poor. If we can find a way to build a league that allows women to play soccer, develop their game, and not have to work full-time in order to do that, a lot of us would be happy. Sustainable business is a cause, shaped by "good intentions" and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

If that's a killjoy for people who want to worship at the altar of the absolute corruption and greed of big time sports, well, they have plenty of other leagues that will be all too happy to make it their business to lift the burden of "cause" from their shoulders.

[See also Tanya Keith's "Can Women's Soccer Survive? Is the Wrong Question"  on her blog "Soccer...Family Style."]

Monday, December 20, 2010

U Conn's Winning Streak: are they freaks, frauds, or the best women's basketball team ever?

Geno Auriemma, U Conn's head coach, dared to say out loud what is a given: sports media is only paying attention to their record because the Huskies are about to break a men's record.  The media barely made note of the moment they surpassed the longest winning streak in women's basketball. He ALSO speculated that some fans of the men's game are "pissed off" to see women break a men's record.  This, he implies, is the reason many feel the need to knock down his team's accomplishments.  

ESPN: Jemele Hill and Skip Bayless talk over Auriemma's post-game polemic

The Huskies have a home game against Florida State tomorrow (Tuesday, December 2) at 7:00pm ET (4:00pm Pacific). The game - which is sold out - will be broadcast NATIONALLY, on ESPN2. Imagine that! The BIG game, however, will be at Stanford - one of their stronger rivals.  That show-down is on December 28th, 7:00pm Pacific/10:00pm ET. I can't tell how that game will be broadcast outside of Connecticut (where you can watch it on CPTV).

To the people who piss on their accomplishments: If women's basketball is so lame, how come this team is so awesome? Are they space aliens? Robots? Are all these other women's college basketball programs disasters? There are two labels that get mapped onto female winners - that they are freaks, or that they are frauds. Marta, for example, is a "freak" - a total anomaly - the Huskies are "frauds" - who aren't the best team, but the least worst of teams playing not "real" basketball.  That is not only an insult to the Huskies, but a really profound insult to Baylor, Duke, Xavier, Tennessee, West Virginia, Texas A&M, Stanford, UCLA, UNC, Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State... 

Go Huskies - everyone but Florida wants you to take that record and destroy it. And "go!" to every team looking to take them down - because perhaps the only thing as awesome as holding a record like that, is being the team that breaks the streak.

For those of you who want to know more about women's college basketball, I recommend watching This Is a Game, Ladies, about C. Vivian Stringer and the Rutgers University women's basketball team. It's a GREAT documentary and available on netflix!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Disturbing allegations against South African team coach Makalakalane

While pundits whine about having to figure out where Qatar is and worry about overly long flights from one Russian World Cup match to another, players for the South African women's national team have come forward with charges that their coach, Augustine Makalakalane, sexually harassed the women and was openly, aggressively homophobic, declaring (for example) he only wanted "straight ladies on the team." Two former players charge that they were dropped from the team when they refused their coach's advances. They describe abusive behavior and a lack of respect for women and for the women's game.

Makalakalane (pictured here, center) is already in trouble with the South African Football Association, as his team failed to qualify for the 2011 World Cup when they lost to Equatorial Guinea and came in 3rd in the Africa Women's Championship this year. Makalakalane refused to call up any of the South African players living and playing abroad (Equitorian Guinea, on the other hand, is stacked with international players who were rushed through eligibility procedures), thereby cheating the team of the wisdom those more experienced players might have brought to the squad.

Players describe him as having a "stinking attitude" towards women. Banyana player Nthabiseng "Moemish" Matshaba alleges that the coach made direct advances toward her, and dropped her from the team for not sleeping with him - just before the African Women's Championship. According to Sameer Naik's story for IOL Sport, Matshaba
said she had been 'heart-broken' after she was left out of the squad, but will refuse to play under Makalakalane. Naik, "More allegations against Makalakalane," 11/27/2010
No one should have to endure such abusive behavior, and no one should have to feel that playing on a team requires their silence and complicity.

This story reminds me of a hypothesis I've been entertaining for the past year: FIFA's involvement in the women's game is in the best situations a mixed bag, and for a much of the world it has created serious problems - one which stunts, even prevents the development of national teams around the globe.

FIFA only got involved in the women's game in the late 1980s, after a Norwegian official became the first woman to speak at one of its congresses, with the demand that FIFA pay attention to the women's game. FIFA took on the organization of a World Cup in baby steps - at first refusing to associate its "brand" with women by calling its tournament anything but a "FIFA World Cup." But lo and behold, people cared, the games were great and there were real crowds in attendance.

Today, all FIFA associated national programs are supposed to have a women's program.  In order to submit a women's team to World Cup qualifications, that women's program must be run by the existing structures of the countries (men's) football association.

From the late 1980s through the 1990s, in those countries with women's soccer programs, the groups organizing national leagues and teams were forced (I don't think that's too strong a word) under the umbrella structure of the FIFA affiliated men's national association. This means that in a lot of countries, men who had enforced bans against women's soccer as recently as the mid 1980s were now charged with taking over women's soccer.

In South Africa (I am oversimplifying its history here), prior to its absorption by the South African Football Association, the South Africa Women's Football Association managed the national program. SAWFA's history is interesting, as they were originally white and colored, then integrated - there was a Black women's association as well - the South African Women's Soccer Association - which merged with the SAWFA before it was taken over by the SAFA. Also interesting: the period during which FIFA's involvment with the women's game forced the absorption of the women's association into SAFA - late 1980s/early 1990s - coincides with the transition from Apartheid - the first universal election was held in 1994.

By 1994, women's football was administered through the SAFA, and this is where the story starts getting very ugly. According to Cynthia Pelak's 2009 overview of women's soccer in South Africa (from which I take this history), "as more women showed up at their local soccer pitches, highly gendered spaces, more overt power struggles between men and women emerged." Around this time, serious charges against male owners and managers emerged, as they were accused of sexual harassment and financial mismanagement (and corruption). Players asked the SAFA for help and were ignored until a commissioned was formed in 1996. As a result, women's soccer - which had been "affiliated" with the SAFA - was brought fully into its organizational structure, as a subcommittee, allowing the women's programs more access to SAFA resources and adminsitrative support. But this did nothing to change the basic problems regarding the absence of women from leadership roles in the SAFA itself.

Pelak interviewed a SAFA administrator about the situation in Johannesburg in the 1990s:
The sport grew very rapidly and in 1994 we started having a lot of problems with men. They saw women’s sports growing and they wanted to come and start running it. We had huge troubles in those years – 1994, 95, and 96. It was really a tormented time for all of us. A lot of the women were threatened by these men and their kids intimidated. It led to the police being involved and all sorts of mess. And, unfortunately the men who were trying to take over the running of women’s football had connections with the federation [SAFA] and the federation supported them instead of the women. The people in charge did not take us seriously. We had to go to the Minister of Sports. And there was a huge commission for men and women in soccer [along with other concerns] and it took about three years to complete. It resulted in women being rendered powerless. It resulted in the federation disbanding women’s soccer as a separate entity and incorporating it into the men’s structure.   - SAFA adinsitrator interviewed by Cynthia Pelak, "Women and gender in South African Soccer: a brief history" in Soccer and Society (December, 2009)
To return to the emerging story regarding Makalakalane: For the sake of argument, let's assume these allegations are true. Let's assume that things would have to have gotten really bad for these stories to come out - for no female player who makes such a charge will do so with an expectation that she will go on to have a career playing for her national team, especially given the ongoing betrayal of women's trust in administrative structures like the SAFA.

Furthermore, given the grisly statistics regarding the numbers of South African women who experience sexual violence, and the frequency with which women footballers are subjected to extra-harassment for participating in a sport coded as masculine, it's very likely that players on this team are all too familiar with the dynamics of sexual abuse. And all too familiar with the systemic indifference to the problem in judicial and employment spheres.

Players come forward with these charges with the hope of making the national team better but they do so with few illusions about the struggle required to make such changes.

The team's manager, Fran Hilton-Smith, is a highly visible advocate within the SAFA. Patrick Baloyi reports that while players said they told Hilton-Smith about the situation, she was not given anything specific enough to respond to, until now. "Maybe the players were scared to talk," she posited, "because they wanted to play." In its investigation, apparently the SAFA brought a host of former players in for a confidential discussion of the crisis. This - bringing in senior and retired players - seems like a step in the right direction - and let's hope it is part of a broader effort to include such women in the administrative structures of the game.

A stronger female presence in the organization of football associations won't fix everything by a long stretch, but it has got to force some positive changes by at the very least raising awareness about what sexual harassment is, and how toxic it can be to any collective - I can't imagine anything destroying one's relationship to a team and the sport more than the systemic harassment these players are describing.

In any case, this is a reminder that the FIFA World Cup is a pop-up nation unto itself - hosting a World Cup is no magic elixir, and FIFA is not a human rights organization.  It's controlling presence in the sport works not in the service of the greater good, but in the service of globalization and to the benefit of the politico-economic forces invested not in making a better world, but in selling you an image of a better world, so that you can forget about the shitty one you actually live in.

Sorry for sour tone, but it's hard to put a positive spin on this story.

A few of the articles on the charges against Makalakalane:

"Good as Gone - 'If Fired, Life Goes on'" Sunday World (November 21, 2010)
Patrick Baloyi, "'Rude predator' 'randy coach' too hands-on" Sunday World (November 21, 2010)
Sameer Naik, "More allegations against Makalakalane" Sunday Independent (November 29, 2010)

And: I come across this story initially via the Justin Campaign's website. Glad the anti-homophobia campaign is reporting it, but I must confess that I was a bit turned off by their afterthought of a headline: "It's not just for men."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Brandi Chastain Called Me! (to talk about the Capital One Cup, media politics, the new Title IX generation & Arakawa's awesomeness)

Brandi Chastain and I talked on the phone today! Skip to bottom for the MP3 if you don't want to read my somewhat fragmented overview.

Chastain is remembered by most people for scoring the winning penalty kick at the historic 1999 Women's World Cup final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  (And for tearing off her shirt with joy - and the controversy the gesture created.)

She's had an unusually long career playing at the highest levels in the US and internationally, having retired from competition only recently, at the tender age of 42. Today she made the press rounds as the spokesperson for the Capital One Cup - a new annual award for Division I NCAA sports teams, recognizing them for their records and for the integrity of their programs. The $200,00 grant will fund student-athletes at the winning program who want to pursue graduate study. Chastain sings its praises, quite rightly as it recognizes the need to reward non-revenue generating programs, and celebrate, too, athetes' ambitions beyond their Division I careers. Their facebook page is a great way to learn more about the competition. We talked about this award, and then roamed across a variety of subjects, like:

The media's attitudes about aggression and gender as NFL players Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan threw fists at each other on the field last week, and the story barely made an appearance in the headlines (in contrast to what happens when women so much as swear, or knit their eyebrows at each other).

She spoke briefly about the Gold Pride's folding, and had very warm words for the team's primary investors - it sounds like they just got in over their heads, but had their hearts in the right place.  (Sorry for the consecutive body metaphors.) This makes the fold more tragic.  (Though check out this announcement regarding the formation of two California Women's Premier Soccer League teams for next season, which should form the backbone of two WPS teams in the following year.)

In this year's NCAA women's soccer final four we see some new faces -  Stanford, Boston College; Notre Dame, Ohio State. While we think of Title IX's impact being most visible in the '99 generation, Chastain pointed out that it is in the rising generation of athletes that we will really see what Title IX. The number of schools forwarding teams in NCAA women's soccer has tripled since Chastain played for Cal and then Santa Clara University.  This very large and growing wave of players are only just becoming visible at the top tier of the sport. Good news.

I asked Chastain what she's learned from international players, and she waxed about how much joy is in Eriko Arakawa's 'fro, I mean, style of play.  (She made the observation that Japanese players develop great footskills because most develop their game in small courts - I'd never thought of this, but it makes perfect sense.)  And we talked about how Germany's women's team has picked up another kind of game, in addition to the organization for which the team is famous. They now also have a flare to their game, just as the new generation of male players do. Brazil, she said is fun to watch, too, because in addition to the skill, you have the drama of "can they hold it together?"

I steared clear of the USWNT, as I figure we are all going to talk ourselves blue in the face about those gals in the next few months.

Anyway, in a From a Left Wing first, I've uploaded an MP3 of the interview.  It's minimally edited, and I'm rusty - lots of uhms and me ranting - thank god she's a good talker and managed to get a word in edgewise.  I was super grateful for the interview, and happy to help Chastain bring attention to the Capital One Cup - it's a fantastic idea, and somebody better figure out how not to give it to U Conn's basketball team, lest they win EVERYTHING.

Brandi Chastain, on the phone with From a Left Wing (December 1, 2010)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the eve of El Clásico, we visit with an old friend

Tomorrow, one of the worlds great derbies - El Clásico - Barcelona v Real Madrid - two sides in astronomical debt in spite of the fact that their shirts are on every other back.

It's a good excuse to check out one of the most quixotic football blogs out there - artist Yrsa Roca Fannberg's meditations on Art versus Sport - entries drift from Barcelona's ups and downs (this goes back a couple years, to less glorious moments than the present), to the moods of the artist and the economic crisis in Iceland (she is half-Icelandic). Her watercolors center almost exclusively on Barça, and are just brilliant. No two ways about it - they appeal to any football fan, with the exception perhaps of the ardent Real Madrid supporter. Worth a look, as a pre-match warm up for the emotional drama. (The moody track on the site is "Partying with the bonus of youth," by The Male Nurse.)

Yrsa Roca Fannberg, Hope for the Enemy, watercolor on paper (2008)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

US Women's National Team win reminds us that less is more

The US women's national soccer team qualified for the 2011 World Cup by beating Italy 1-0 in Chicago. We can thank both Amy Rodriguez for the goal, and Rapinoe for the initial shot (which capped a terrific sequence of footwork on her part).  Picarelli deflected Rapinoe's goal and Rodriguez slotted it into the net before any of the Italian defenders could get there.

The score is surprisingly low. In the second half, Italy really lost its game as the US squad controlled most of the possession and pace, and attacked non-stop. In the last fifteen minutes, the Azzurri seemed to revive but while attackers gained ground and created some real chances, they were alone.

Much as one might want one's team to CRUSH their opponents, these results are a good reminder that successful teams often get there with that 1-0 final score. As crucial as that 1 goal is, that 0 counts for more. Pia Sundhage (pictured) knows exactly what she's doing. It is not what fans most enjoy watching, but there it is. Think of Spain's 2010 World Cup run - 0-1; 2-0; 1-2; 1-0; 0-1; 0-1; 0-1. Throughout the tournament, fans moaned, until their team won.

Of course, we can ask questions about the American team's finish - they had so many opportunities, so many shots that went high and wide one can't even say the team was unlucky in not scoring more.  But, they got it done, which is what teams that go the distance in tournaments do.

I'm not going to complain at length today about ESPN - the commentary was great, if you could get on - the site did nothing to raise awareness about this match. I'm just glad the national team is through, and very curious to see what happens this summer. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Big Game: US Women's National Team plays for its World Cup spot

Tomorrow, the team ranked #1 in the world plays for the last spot in the 2011 Women's World Cup. Few saw this coming: a

Saturday, November 20, 2010

US Women's Team Plays in the Dark: thoughts on today's unlikely win over Italy

Today, Alex Morgan saved the collective ass of the US Women's National Team. The Californian super-sub drew blood from Italy in the last breath of this crucial match, stepping onto the field in the 85th minute and scoring in the 94th. The two-game play-off with the Azzurri is the last chance for both teams to qualify for the 2011 World Cup. The Americans will play Italy in Chicago on Saturday, November 27th. Right now there is no plan to show the match on television. SHAME ON ESPN, the sexist bastards.

Twitter is the sport's friend, however, and my feed sparkled with expressions of thanks @AlexMorgan from fans who had been dismayed by the team's failure to cinch the win in regular time and were relieved - not to mentioned surprised - by the victory. The story of the game must have been Italy's stalwart defense. Maybe the Azzurri are bodying forth the following truism: national women's teams tend play the way their men do (not good news for USA).  Actually it is probably more accurate to say that international women's teams are playing as the men used to - before they turned into spoiled overgrown babies working for the world's biggest crooks.

On the matter of time and possible crookery: one might safely observe that the person who most helped the US today was the match's referee (Sylvia Elisabeth Reyes Juarez). Morgan scored her goal in the fourth minute of added time. Kevin McCauley, writing for SB Nation describes what happened:
Fergie Time might have to be re-named Pia Time after the United States' incredible stoppage time goal against Italy. Before stoppage time began, the fourth official showed two minutes of extra time. After three minutes, Italy made a substitution, theoretically requiring the official to add time to the clock, even though the match should have already been over. That extra time would prove costly for Italy as substitute Alex Morgan scored in the 94th minute and the fourth of six minutes of extra time. (McCauley, US Women v Italy)
Hmm. The most optimistic read on this is that the referee got confused and the US got lucky - allowing Morgan to do her work and rob Italy of a draw. More cynical followers of the game will wonder if this isn't the workings of the Sith Lords of Soccer, who can't imagine a successful (i.e. profitable) Women's World Cup without an invested American audience.

Speaking of audience: most of us fans didn't see today's game. We couldn't. ESPN exiled the match to the dark corner of the internet known as "" - accessible only to some cable television subscribers. I followed Jacqueline Purdy's tweets - I assumed that the ESPN blogger was in the stands in Padova. I was wrong. She was in front of a computer screen. Last week ESPN sent a whole crew to cover the US men's team play a purely symbolic match against South Africa, but who did they send to Italy for this important qualifier? [Crickets.]

The recent under performance of the USWNT should raise loads of questions. Like: Is the USWNT overrated? While I believe the USWNT players and staff are fully aware of their international competition - the American press seems totally oblivious to the rapid gains made by national team programs like Italy, Nigeria (who won the 2010 AWC), and Mexico. The American loss to Mexico was not nearly as surprising as everyone makes it out to be.  Yes, it was an upset - but let's not imagine that Mexico's solid play or the US's lackluster performances were anomalies. If anything, today's game proved that there is something amiss in the golden girls' camp.  

An interesting detail to these recent matches: US players have been playing well AGAINST the US Women's National Team. Mexico's Veronica Perez (from San Mateo, California - see this Mercury News profile) scored the winner against the USWNT to force the US into its playoff with Italy.  And Italy's terrific defensive game must have something to do with their goalie Anna Picarelli (from Lakewood, California - see Purdy's story about her.) That playing abroad is an attractive option for these women says everything about the gains made by national programs outside the United States.

This is good news for women's soccer. It means that the US Women's National Team has to play a smarter, more aggressive game. Nigeria has shown itself to be stronger than most sides at sucking the joy out of their opponents' games, and has players with startling talent who show real leadership under pressure. We all know that Brazil has the skill to unravel a team's strategy - that once they crack that strategy, they can actually demoralize world champions (USA and Germany were both broken by Marta's crew in dramatic victories). Teams like England and Mexico are hungry to show their football-mad countries what their women can do. One of these sides is going to break through and represent the new face of the international game. 

We must stop imagining that other teams are bringing their game to us, and start bringing our game to them.

And we can show our support for the US Women's National Team by demanding broadcast of their games. Call ESPN and express your desire to see Saturday's game on television: 1-888-549-ESPN

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Mexico's Win: "Marigol" puts the US Women's National Team on notice

Maribel Dominguez scored against the US in only the third minute of the match. She's appeared on this site before (Why police the border between men's and women's sports?), as the player who provoked FIFA to rule that "the men's and women's game must be absolutely separate" when she accepted an offer to play for Celaya FC (a second-tier men's professional club). (Read a 2005 Guardian profile on "Marigol" here.) The team's second goal, a header, comes from Veronica Perez - formerly of the St. Louis Atletica (which folded). She's Mexican American, from San Mateo, California, and with that goal, she sends her team to the 2011 World Cup.

You can watch highlights below (if you want to watch these highlights minus CONCACAF's truly awful guitar ripping score, go here).

The first goal is classic USA - it's just normally the guys who dig holes for themselves at the start of a match.  Carli Lloyd makes her mark, it wasn't enough.  From these highlights, you can see that El Tri Feminil had a very large and very passionate crowd behind them. 

Coverage of the game universally emphasizes this as arguably one of the greatest upsets in the sport.  I don't disagree, but frankly, for me, the bigger story is that of the generations of talent in this sport who have been held back by shitty national federations and a lack of support.

I sure as hell hope the US side pulls itself together and gets the job done, winning their game on Monday.  But I also hope Mexico takes Canada - and have a great run in Germany. There are a lot of women in Mexico - and in the United States - who will be happy to cheer for El Tri, and are excited to see the international women's game truly take off.

A few other stories on this match:
ESPN's excellent Jacqueline Purdy, Greatest upset in women's soccer history
La Opinión, Jorge Jaramillo, Vence a EEUU y va al Mundial
ADN (Spain), Cueller dice que en Mexico hay talento y con eso vencieron a las mejores

Mexico's Women's National Team Beats the US in Major Upset

The US Women play Costa Rica for the 3rd place match and must win that game in order to play Italy, in order to qualify for the 2011 World Cup AND for the 2012 Olympics. (USWNT match report).
Carli Lloyd & Natalie Vinti/photo Roberto Fernandez/US Soccer

Apparently, Mexico played a solid match and enjoyed lots of support from the home crowd (in Cancun).  This is the US's first loss in a qualifying match in CONCACAF - and it's the first time Mexico beat the US in 26 matches. The latter team has been looking great - really solid, and won this match with guts and an organized defense.

As scared as I am for the US women, this is great news for the international women's game.  These things should be nail biters.

Is it too much to ask for an extension of the US/Mexico rivalry to the women's game?

Meanwhile, there is barely a peep in the press here about Brazil's 4-0 defeat of Venezuela in their first match of the women's Copa América - the region's qualifying tournament. In the Southern Cone, Brazil's women's team is at once totally dominant and almost totally neglected by the media. (Please share links to coverage of this tournament.)

Anyway: all of this ought to draw attention to the lame fact that women's teams are playing right now to qualify for two international tournaments, one of which is nearly two years away - How on earth is that acceptable?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Political Play: Day Laborers Stage Tournament at the Rose Bowl

by Fernando Romero, Guest Writer

Fútbol has long been used as a key organizing tool for day laborers and immigrant communities in Southern California. One perfect expression of this fact: The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) was born out of a pickup game between two teams made up of jornaleros (day laborers). 

The game that birthed the organization has grown into an annual tournament, played this past Sunday at the Rose Bowl. Jornaleros from all over the Los Angeles region competed in the 10th Annual Day Laborer Soccer Cup, on teams representing labor centers or street corners from Los Angeles, Orange County and Inland Empire. Jornaleros, community leaders, students, activists, futbol fans (and yours truly) found themselves on the fields adjacent to the Rose Bowl on one of the mistiest days in recent memory. I was privileged enough to play with the team from Riverside.

This year’s tournament was played in the midst of one the ugliest moments in recent history for immigrants, documented or undocumented. The political climate in California and throughout the country has taken a range of horrifying shape, from the overt racism of Tea Party candidates (and the communities they purport to represent) to Arizona’s SB 1070, undocumented workers and immigrants are increasingly under attack from demagogue politicians and legal policies aimed to scapegoat and oppress. (Click here or here for information about immigration reform.)

The day’s events began with a press conference and an opening ceremony that included an introductory procession of each team. Each team held a banner with a theme relating to a current immigration issue such as the DREAM Act, Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, E-verify, the Safe Communities Initiative, and, of course, SB 1070. Members of each team gave a brief description of their theme and the immigration policy or issue it represented. NLDON organizer Eddie Gonzalez explained, “the banners were meant to communicate a message between local governments and media that this is what the workers are asking for.”

West Los Angeles took the championship, Laguna Beach came in second, Pasadena third and Rancho Cucamonga fourth. The true purpose of the tournament was not the distribution of trophies, but to a plant a seed of political/social consciousness for the day laborers, a demographic that for their struggles as part of the working class and their invisibility in society, seem to carry the burden of the immigration issue on their backs. 

Gonzalez said the tournament has been used as an organizing tool, but also to give the jornaleros a day to come together as a community. He said the event also allows for the jornaleros to come together and work for a common goal.  “The hardest part (of the tournament) was getting the players there. Along with the jornaleros, we organized car washes in order to fundraise for transportation and other things needed for the tournament.”

Gonzalez explained that the anti-immigrant climate is felt by the entire community. Scare tactics used by anti-immigrant groups in the Inland Empire kept regular players from participating in the tournament and some of their members had recently been deported in raids. Most notably, last Fall, a Neo-Nazi group had fixated on a day laborer site at a Home Depot in Riverside near the 91 freeway, and gathered there to stage a series of racist protests, shouting “American jobs for American people” and “white power”. 

The atmosphere of the tournament itself was removed from the everyday struggles of the workers, who must navigate such extremism just to make a living. Instead, the mood was upbeat and relaxed - like that of any other Sunday in Latin America, where the day revolves around family and fútbol, whether one be in Los Angeles or Lima.
“You can see it their excitement to play and take part in the event, “ Gonzalez observed. "For a lot of them this day is the only time when they can forget about being a day laborer. When they can wake up and not have to worry about standing in a corner and wait for a job to come around. The one day you’re able to take away from being in the shadow.”

It’s been said that in places where people are poor, and mad for soccer, a revolution could be based on the sport’s intrinsic ties to the working class. That because of soccer’s appeal to the working class along with its mass following, it could serve as the spark for social change. I’ve been present at immigration rallies here in California that have implemented chants born out of soccer stadiums in Latin America. And every time, it’s a vivid reminder of the power of soccer to bring about social and political change.

People living in exile tend to be in contact with other people also in exile and share similar experiences. The purpose of the tourney is to bring together the day laborer community, a community so invisible, and distant from each other that no other activity or past time seemed apt to motivate them enough to give up a precious Sunday and drive to Pasadena.

Most of the players would not identify themselves as “political”, but it does not matter: the tournament aims to bring a sense community to a demographic so disenfranchised and invisible that it seems that only through soccer could that sense of community ever be accessed. The revolution may not be televised, but it might just start on a soccer field. 

Thank you Fernando for sharing this story with From a Left Wing! I'm finishing a book project, and have not been able to post regularly. Fernando worked with me and Alan Minsky on The People's Game and also worked on Gustavo Arellano's much loved program "Ask a Mexican" - both on KPFK, 90.7 Los Angeles.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Notes on Nigerian Football Scandals & the Amazing Falconets

Dr. Amos Amadu
Today Naija Football 247 reposted a Sahara Reporters story about journalist Olukayode Thomas's struggle with the Nigerial football/sporting executive Amos Adamu (FIFA and CAF executive board member). "How a David Defeated Goliath in a Nigerian Court" is well worth reading, as is a more recent story on the same site about the place of that scandal in FIFA's delay of the 2018 World Cup bid ("Nigeria's Amos Adamu Offers to Sell FIFA Hosting Rights for 500,000").

As most sports sections report on the corruption in the Nigerian football association, few seem to notice that in the midst of this story, Nigeria's U20 women's squad became the first African team to play in a World Cup championship final match. After beating the always strong Japan at the group stage, and knocking out the U.S. in the quarter finals (highlights of Nigeria's defeat of the US), the Falconets took down Columbia (another great story of the tournament) to reach the championship match. There, they lost (as so many do) to Germany 2-0 (highlights of that game here).

The story of Thomas's fight with Adamu (who has sued the Guardian journalist for libel) provides an interesting context for understanding the administrative chaos that surrounds the sport in Nigeria.
Nigeria's 2010 U20 Women's Squad, "The Falconets"
It is hard to imagine how the women's program survives at all - and they don't just survive. This summer, they played very smart football - the kind of well-organized, conservative game associated with perrenial powerhouses like the U.S. and Germany. Nigeria's women's teams are always stacked with talent and play well against much more well-funded and administratively stable sides.

And the more I read about what's going on in Nigeria's sporting community, the more I want to know about these players, and the men and women who support them. These are the unheralded superstars of the sport - for they do this with no hope of riches and international fame.

(And sorry for disappearing - am finishing a non-football related project!)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Wanlov the Kubolor's "Goal Again"

Wanlov the Kubulor produced Yellow Card in honor of the World Cup - it is, start to finish, a joy. This is my favorite World Cup related music - it's actually a concept album that lives up to the complexity of its idea.  Wanlov hails from Ghana (he was born in Romania & lived for a bit in the US), Yellow Card follows Green Card - and in the move from one to the other, I think you get a sense of the connections he makes. He calls his style/practice/philosophy "Pidgin music" - it's a hybrid of contemporary Ghanaian scenes. This album is clearly inspired by the texture of the everyday intersections of music and football in his home country. Yellow Card manages to be both upbeat and grouchy - the music of a passionate and beleaguered fan. "Goal Again" appears in the background to the "Obama We Are Sorry" World Cup celebration video I posted a couple weeks ago, and I just had to track it down.  I thought I'd share it with you all. Be prepared to move.

I believe you can download the album, legally, here. Wanlov the Kubolor has been giving this music away - but check out 2007's Green Card, too, which he sells on itunes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Why We Fight (for real sports coverage)

Fans like yours truly want sports writers to sink their nasty little teeth into better topics than irrelevant fights between amateur players, playing in matches that matter to no one but those teams and their campuses.

We would like: Nasty rants about the shit refereeing in the women's college game (because that matters nationally). Cynical swipes at Marta's Amway deal. Follow up on rumors that players have been selling Amway to make up for their crap salaries, and let's hear more about that agent of Marta's while we are looking at the business side of things. How about some paranoid writing about the UNC-Chapel Hill cult. Let's hear about who pays for retired NWT players' knee surgeries. And why not rip into AEG, for the "good will" this WPS sponsor garnered for themselves while they sold out the best team in the league. (Called it here, natch.)

How about some bitching about player development systems? The weirdness of international scouting for the WPS? And the fact that FIFA can't think of anyone who knows how to play soccer besides Marta. (I mean, she's great - amazing - but four years in a row? Seriously?) Let's push up against the milktoast vibe of the USWNT while we are at it, and call out the US Soccer Federation on its apologetic attitude that the women's team has a (MUCH) better record than the men's team in international competition, as if this was something one should be sorry for. Or: let's call out FIFA on their paternalism and test this hypothesis: FIFA's involvement with the women's game has set the development of the women's game in most countries BACK, because FIFA requires that the women's program be run by - you guessed it - the men who run national football associations. Who are mostly corrupt bastards. Why won't FIFA deal with a separately organized National Women's Football Association in those countries which have failed their women's program?  Like: India, Uruguay, South Africa and, oh, let's say Spain.

Sports fans want their sport taken seriously - this doesn't mean uncritical boosterism - far from it.  We want reports on the highs, and the lows - especially the lows! - the problem with women's soccer has been that the real lows (see above) are not reported. Instead we get nothing, and then a blip of hysterical shit about how violent the women's game is (see the men's World Cup final, anyone??), and an open invitation to the morons who never watch the women's game, ever, to give their opinions about how lame it is. 

Every now and again someone writes something real about the game - Grant Wahl and Andrea Canales's stories about Hope Solo's return to the US Women's National Team after the World Cup fiasco, for example.  Coverage like this is rare - and, frankly, that controversy would have had a very different shape if sports writers had been more critically engaged with the USWNT from the start.

Sports fans gripe and complain, we obsess and worry.  Fans of the women's game have few forums to vent about the real stuff - and it's infuriating to watch this stories go uninvestigated and unremarked upon. We deserve better stories than the "news" that women lose their tempers. Much better.

News Flash: Women Fight!!!

The Huffington Post published a sensational story on its front page - players in a college soccer match got into a FIGHT! Can you BELIEVE it? Players, shoving each other?! Throwing sneaky punches? And then they got EJECTED from the match! Damn, that's intense. Oh, wait. That's not news

Women get into a scuffle!  In a college soccer match! And get two red cards for it! And make headlines!  I am so sick of this shit. If it were the WPS, yes, that's news - if the fight were truly spectacular, which this is not. But hey, why cover the WPS?

(The actual event is so singularly uninteresting that it boggles the mind. This is, to my mind, even worse than the Lambert incident, because not only was the confrontation totally ordinary, it was also properly refereed! Where is the news here??? My god - how many men 's teams finish with 10 players on the pitch because of stuff like this? It's utterly banal.) 

Scuffles, fights, shoving matches - none of this should ever be news because the players involved are women. That is the only reason this is considered newsworthy here - the only reason.

If we accept that as newsworthy - well, what else should we make headlines out of?

Women are competitive! Women get pissed off! Sometimes, they lose their temper! STOP THE PRESSES!!

Actually, I mean that last bit.

Stop this sexist press, or I am coming over there with my soccer-playing harpie warrior bitches, we are going to foul the living daylights out of you. And we aren't going to be pulling no ponytails.

Oh, sorry, was that too aggressive? Did I lose my ladylike composure?

I'm so fed up with stories about women losing it on the field - this is full-on media collaboration with the worst aspects of sexism: Make women out to be monsters, all the while burying the story of the very real links between violence against women, homophobia, and the mainstream sports culture that media produces.

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Dock Ellis & the LSD No-No" by James Blagden

This is brilliant.  James Blagden illustrates Dock Ellis's incredible (true) story about pitching on acid. Courtesy of No Mas TV .

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sports Writing Blues

Lately, I find I do not have much to say. In June and July I watched all but two World Cup matches, read enormous amounts of football journalism, and contributed to the genre in my own way via this blog and daily podcasts for The People's Game.  I loved this - especially the podcasts which gave me a chance to talk with bloggers I've been reading, who define my "imagined community." But by the end, I found that I had less and less to say. My co-host's queries regarding who I thought would win the matches left me increasingly annoyed. I started off reluctant, offering up who I would have liked to see win, but by the end I just declared "I have no idea." It isn't to say that I have no expertise (I did say the final would be determined by how a team handled the other team's fouling, natch), but naming the winner and loser of a match scarcely matters to me - it's interest value is dwarfed by the question of what kind of game it would be. 

Beware of sports writers who pretend to mastery of the facts. I come across a different version of these people in academia - they can recite a bunch of dates, or quote Hegel, and for this reason they seem to think that they've figured it all out. The ones who listen, however, who have a good sense of humor and know how to hold contradiction in their head without trying to resolve it - those are the ones who are most likely to say something interesting, something insightful, something new.

More often than not, sports pundits are writing with the certainty of hindsight, finding in what they've just seen evidence of what they already know.  (The one genre in sports writing that seems to escape this problem is the live streaming match report, an emerging art.)

Reader, beware of the sense of mastery which comes at the cost of a sense of wonder.  Who can say why Gyan missed his penalty, or that "any player" would have done as [Suarez] did? Who can say why Iniesta can find his shot under so much pressure, how he can make that look like the easiest thing in the world? Why would we want to know these things, anyway? These qualities are unquantifiable, the events are inexplicable, and this is why they fascinate.

Much of the "hard" stories in sports, on the other hand, go unreported. What the hell is going on with the French FA? And Nigeria's Football Association? FIFA supervises football associations, but who supervises FIFA?  Why did AEG back out of the LA Sol? What can fans of women's football do to combat the media's indifference to our sport?

So, I am avoiding the bloody pointless predictions of the EPL's new season. And fake scandals about WAGS, and managerial ego.  Instead, I am going get back my writer's mojo by re-reading Soccer in Sun and Shadow for the umpteenth bizillionth time. And then I'll be back to explain why FIFA shouldn't have anything to do with women's football, the wonders of midnight pickup games in Los Angeles, and stuff like that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

'Obama We Are Sorry' - possibly best World Cup memory from Ghana

Flashback: This video captures the euphoria in the streets of Ghana just after the Black Stars knocked the US out of the World Cup.

Great music in the background - the two most prominent are football-inspired: Richy Pitch's awesome "Football Jama", and Wanlov The Kubolor's "Goal Again". Thank you to photographer Rodney Quarcoo for filming and sharing this.  His website:

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pied La Biche's reenactment of the 1982 World Cup semifinal between West Germany and France

Pied La Biche's Refait (2010) reconstructs the last fifteen of a 1982 World Cup semifinal between West Germany and France. The last fifteen minutes of that match were penalty kicks, the worst sort of tournament drama. (The Guardian gives a detailed survey of this historic match here.) For this work, the artists' collective repeats the movements and gestures of all the players, referees and staff - not on a field, but in ordinary urban spaces. The soundtrack cuts back and forth between a broadcast of the 1982 match, and guys talking about their memories of the game.

This is one of the most awesome works of football art I've ever seen - and it isn't Pied La Biche's only football-centered project.

The same collective organized and documented a tournament of three-sided football for the Lyon Biennial this past year.  In doing so, they realized a 1964 proposal for an anti-bourgeois and dialectal game, written by the Danish artist Asger Jorn. 

Thank you Amelia and Amanda for turning me on to these folks.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Accidents of Fate: Rättskiparen (The Referee)

Rättskiparen (The Referee) is short documentary about Martin Hansson, the referee who missed Thierry Henry's handball. A Swedish television program had already committed to this project before the infamous incident which kept Ireland from going to South Africa. The station's plan had been to track the country's top ranked referee in the months leading up to the 2010 World Cup - as fate would have it, the story of course got more complex with that one game. It's an incredible portrait - part of a wave of films looking at referees. This one has an unusually personal quality to it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Regime Change: Africa in the World Cup Final

Fifa's match reporters seem surprised that Nigeria made it to the U20 Women's World Cup finals. They write:
Few...would have predicted that Nigeria, representatives of an African continent which had never before sampled life beyond the quarter-finals of any FIFA Women’s World Cup or Olympic Games, would be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Sunday’s final in Bielefeld is therefore full of intrigue and fascination.
I must be one of the few. If you watched the women's games in the last Olympics, you might remember that Nigeria drew the toughest group - playing Germany, Brazil, and North Korea in the first round. The Super Falcons gave all three teams a tough time - they played some of the most entertaining attacking football in the tournament.  Watching Nigeria play Brazil, you couldn't help but think you were watching the future of the women's game - neither squad enjoys the institutional support they deserve from their football federations, and they compete well against teams lionized for not only the talent on the field, but for the organizational commitment behind the players. Brazil and Nigeria's senior squads would be contenders for next year's World Cup championship were they supported at even a quarter of the level awarded to their male counterparts. (Boy am I tired of writing sentences like that one.)  Both have fans in their home countries, and both play in styles that reflect the ethos associated with South American and African teams, but which seems lost in the men's game these days.

The Nigerians have not scored the outrageous number of goals that other squads have managed in some of the tournament's ill-matched confrontations.  But the Germans, who have 18 goals in their column, played the woeful French and Costa Rican squads in round one and rolled over the S. Korean squad, with 5 goals to their 1. And the Nigerians have kept the number of goals scored against them low - at 4, they have given up one fewer than Germany.  Furthermore, the Nigerians beat the US youth squad - symbolically, I can't think of a better result for the international game.

In the wonderfully titled article "Our Women Rule the World," Nigerian journalist Ikeddy Isiguzo writes,
USA is the most dominant country in global female football and its U-20 team has never failed to reach the semi-final since the competition started in 2002.
It was the defending champion, and had garnered two wins, a third and fourth place in the four previous competitions  no other country has a record close to this.
Another article, on Nigeria's semifinal win over Columbia is headlined "What Our Men Couldn't Do."  Ghana getting past Uruguay would have been historic. But Nigeria's women beating USA? Or Germany? That would be a ground-breaking victory for not just Nigeria and indeed for Africa's women's teams, but for all women's teams that aren't USA or Germany.  When so few teams play in finals so often, it makes victory for the rest feel impossible - it makes the whole system feel rigged.  It furthermore feeds the defeatist attitude that defines the approach of the vast majority of national FAs (which think: women's football sucks, women don't play well, nobody cares about it, and they will lose anyway).

So, yes, Germany should be favored in this match. But I think anyone who sees the Falconets as unlikely finalists or accidental contenders has not been following the women's game very closely. And I guess that includes FIFA itself.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

U20 Women's World Cup: more questions than answers

This photograph was posted yesterday on the US Women's National Team blog, without comment. I am going to follow their lead, and say nothing about it - turning instead to the questions raised by the results of the first round of play in FIFA's U20 Women's World Cup.

Can someone please explain how the English women's U20 squad ends up in the bottom of its group?  And how Japan, which has a great senior squad, doesn't advance? Mexico made it through - this is fantastic news - is anyone talking about this? What is women's soccer like in Mexico, anyway? Columbia is in the quarter finals too? (Is it just me, or did their group look, well, like a cakewalk?) North Korea eliminated Brazil from contention - huh? What? And why did South Korea keep their superstar Ji So Yun on the bench for the first half? 

And what is up with Korean women's soccer, anyway? They have been a strong side for a while, and both North and South Korea advanced out of their groups. An educated guess: Strong support for women's soccer in the national football associations of these countries is manifesting in these young sides showing us who is developing their talent, and who isn't.  Is it just me, or do Ghana and Nigeria play a version of the game that looks, well, fun? When I see them play, I want to join the team.  Why is that?  Is it just me, or do some of these less heralded squads have unreal talent on them - where do those women play when they aren't playing for their national squads?

I am all questions - no answers, because I am on the road. It isn't like I can pick up a local sports paper to get this information. I managed to catch a few minutes of a streaming live broadcast of Japan's 3-1 thrashing of the English squad.  It was a European sports channel which had - gasp - a FEMALE CALLING THE MATCH.  She was awesome - very witty, in a deadpan girl-jock sort of way. When the guy announcer said that the English side needed to do something, she said, "Uhm, like, score?"  I split my sides laughing.  I am suffering from World Cup burn-out, and have had my fill of the utterly meaningless chatter filling up space, and I'm done with acrobatic statements avoiding the obvious. Another question: Who is she?!

Boy would I love something besides the FIFA reports to read - thank goodness for All White Kit. For some answers to the above, check out AWK.  (I'm following The Girls in the Cheap Seats, too - a new podcast covering all sorts of soccer stuff - hilarious statement about the USWNT U20 team's underwhelming performance against Ghana - "I felt like I was watching the men's team.") But before you hop over there, I am hoping a few of you will fill in these gaps in our collective knowledge in the comments section....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Art of Erasure: from one World Cup to another (USA Ghana)

A few weeks ago, I dared to complain about Nike's "Thank You" video. It is a lovely idea. It features young players thanking the US National Men's Team for "paving the way" - but it excluded girls. Girls support the team, too, and are inspired by their example.

My point then was simple: Girls are inspired by male athletes. Girls and women are fans of the team.  The ad is quite clearly about inspiration (and nationalism). The ad also mimics a Gatorade spot, produced on the occasion of Mia Hamm's retirement. That video opens with a little girl, and cuts to Landon Donovan. It features men and women, including her teammates and Michael Jordan - all thanking the legendary player for inspiring them with her passion, drive, and competitiveness. 

When it comes to women's sports, we don't ask that boys and men be kept out of the frame. We want their support to be visible. Why, then, when it comes to showcasing the fan base for the men's game, must girls be excluded from the picture? 

The logic used to cast that video underscores a growing problem in sport media - the decreasing visibility of women, in nearly every capacity. A recent study demonstrated that roughly 98% of mainstream sports media space is devoted to men's sports, to male athletes and their doings.  Less than 2% is devoted to women.

This issue reared its ugly head today, in the most unlikely place of all.  I sat down today with my niece to watch the US National Women's Team play their opening match in the U20 World Cup, which kicked off this week in Germany.  Amazingly, they played Ghana.

At the half, incredibly, Ghana led 1-0.  The US looked disorganized against a scrappy team playing a ragged defense which nevertheless seemed to neutralize the US's attacks. Were viewers allowed to enjoy a discussion exploring how the heavily favored US gave up a goal, and failed to equalize, in spite of what seemed like a dozen shots? No - instead we got a lame discussion of the state of the men's game in the US.  For real. It was infuriating. I would have settled for a discussion of the senior squad's draw against Sweden the previous day.  But a tired, worn out and totally half-ass debate about what the US men's game needs?  Really?

I spent the day imagining what it would be like if we heard about the WNBA during NBA matches, how the women's league was doing during EPL broadcasts, and if we were offered a history lesson on the suppression of women's baseball during the All-Star game. It would be amazing.

Representations of female athleticism, of the accomplishments of women's teams, are so few, so rare that girls must look to people like Landon Donovan for inspiration - he's a LOT easier to see on TV than Sydney Leroux (who scored the second half equalizer today).  Girl players look up to him and his teammates, even though they aren't nearly as competitive internationally as the women's squad.  They should admire Donovan, Howard, Gooch, Dempsey et all.  They are great players. And they should admire Leroux, Rodriguez, Wambach, Solo, Kai and their teammates too.

Girls who support the sport should never be squeezed out of the frame - unless the intention is to give them a jump on mastering the art of self-erasure.

For a recap of USA/Ghana, as well as other matches - including a great one between England and Nigeria - see All White Kit. Highlights below, thanks to AWK!

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