The Women’s World Cup in soccer should be a cause for celebration, as the game’s best female players get to show off their talents in front of bigger crowds than most of them have ever played before. But it’s apparently impossible these days for players—as well as coaches, commentators, journalists, or even spectators—to enjoy a major sporting event without filtering the experience through the prism of resistance politics. And so, this edition of the Women’s World Cup, taking place in France now and continuing through the first week in July, has turned into a festival of resentment and grievance.
Too numerous to catalog in their entirety, the complaints have piled up: the women aren’t paid enough; the male-dominated media don’t pay enough attention—and, conversely, too many male reporters are covering the games; the commentary is sexist; the commentators engage in too many stereotypes; the greedy men who run international soccer don’t care whether the women succeed. It’s difficult to watch a broadcast, read a game account, scan a blog, listen to a podcast, or read anything on social media about the tournament without being reminded of all the injustices these athletes and coaches are enduring. One journalist even described the games an “act of defiance.”
Well, yes. As with most things, the games themselves are enjoyable; the commentary about the games is almost entirely worthless, which is why it’s best ignored altogether. It’s a shame that the usual culprits are determined to push a zero-sum gender-war narrative, because the women’s game will generally suffer for the comparison. I’ve been watching this summer’s tournament, as I did four years ago. As always, it’s refreshing to see the absence of the diving and flopping which mars the men’s game, and the overall surfeit of good sportsmanship is wonderful (notwithstanding Cameroon’s embarrassing display of petulance during their defeat to England this week). On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time I saw such a lopsided blowout between professional teams as I did during the U.S.A.’s 13-0 humiliation of Thailand, and there’s no getting away from the fact that the women’s game is noticeably slower and basic errors are more prevalent (on the other other hand, today’s Netherlands-Japan match was as thrilling as any you’ll see, a game where it was truly sad that there had to be a loser). I have no ideological axe to grind; the reason I only tune in to watch women’s games every four years is that I simply don’t have time for more than that. With limited temporal and attentive resources to spend, choices have to be made, and I prefer to watch the more exciting, competitive games featuring the best athletes. At any rate, I think all reasonable people can agree that identity politics ruins everything.