With the Women’s World Cup 2015 coming to an end on Monday (AEST) with the final between the USA and Japan, it seems prudent to review the off field events of the last month and let’s face it no international tournament is complete without its fair share of champions and controversy.
FIFA should be applauded for increasing the number of competing teams in the Women's World Cup to 24 with the colour, culture and inspiration of teams like Nigeria, Thailand and Côte d'Ivoire a positive for the tournament and the development of the game.
Most had overlooked that a team was missing from the draw, North Korea 2007 quarter finalists, banned due to testing positive for doping and unable to compete in the 2015 version of the World Cup.
"This is a shock, we are confronted with a very, very bad case of doping and it hurts," reported Sepp Blatter, but his ensuing resignation and detainment of the ‘FIFA Seven’ in Zurich surely hurting much more leading to his consequential failure to attend the final.
The first match hadn’t even been played before the controversy surrounding US goalkeeper Hope Solo’s arrest, on two counts of domestic violence, gained further attention from the US media even though the charges were earlier dismissed, but we all know how much the Americans like a scandal and Hope Gate was no different.
The first match of the tournament between Canada and China was watched by more than 53,000 inside the Commonwealth Stadium, making it the best attended match in Canadian men or women's football history, a giant step forward for the women’s game, however, the extra time penalty awarded to Canada did raise some eyebrows.
There was the Sports Illustrated NFL writer Andy Benoit that tweeted that “all women’s sports are unwatchable”, a comment that received world-wide condemnation from both the public and the media with some calling for his sacking, forcing him to remove his tweets and go into social media hiding.
Further sexist comments from US Sports Centre’s Stephen Smith once again marred the tabloids when he joked that the players “might not have wanted to mess their hair up” referring to a goal scored off a free kick, a comment that doesn’t deserve any further recognition.
On a more positive note, SBS announced that for the first time in Australian TV history it would be broadcasting the entire 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada, live, free and exclusive - including all Matildas matches.
In the USA, Fox Sports have capitalised on the growing market for women's soccer in North America by securing a broadcasting deal with the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).
"Our agreement with NWSL showcases our continuing support of women's soccer well after the champion is crowned at the FIFA Women's World Cup. We are proud to support the sport's top players through our partnership," stated a Fox Sport representative.
With the ABC having recently relinquished its television rights to the W-League in Australia, it is hoped that an Australian broadcaster will soon see the interest in the women's game and pursue it. Something that our own Football Federation Australia have been making whispers about, but with no firm agreements yet in place, the W-League may be left in the darkness despite the Matilda’s success.
Then there was the ‘turf war’ between a contingent of players accusing FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association of discrimination for providing unsafe playing conditions by using artificial surfaces, but as was quite rightly pointed out, the type of surface was reported in the bidding process and did meet safety standards.
Interestingly, with this type of surface preferred by Canadian grid iron clubs, it seems the ‘powers that be’ had another agenda and took it upon themselves to use the Women’s World Cup to upgrade facilities at Edmonton for the coming gridiron season.
“I am hopeful that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields … marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports," said American player Abby Wambach, who allegedly had partnered with a lawn care company months before the tournament.
Once again USA’s Abby Wambach’s name came up in the press after she was warned by the FIFA Disciplinary Committee for having a public jab about a referee’s decision to issue Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday with yellow cards in their match against Colombia.
"I don't know if they were yellows," she said. "It seemed like she [the referee] was purposefully giving those yellows to players that she knew were sitting on yellows,” she said, but later apologising.
Then there was the question of why the USA and Germany, countries ranked first and second in the world, ended up being on the same side of the draw. FIFA assigning seeded teams to groups before the draw hoping that ticket holders would be treated to a Canada- USA match, filling stadiums for prime time television.
Of course this article wouldn't be complete without championing the efforts of the Matildas making it into the last eight of the tournament for the third straight time, but not only that, making history by being the first Australian team to win a match in the knockout stages of the tournament.
By Paul Brown