The US NWT and the non-sexist myth

People in the press (at least before England reached the Semi Finals) were saying that the Women’s World Cup was getting far less coverage in the UK than the US and were using this fact to peddle the myth that the UK sports culture is far more sexist than the equivalent in the US. But that is not true. Women’s football is popular in the US due to a conjunction of circumstances and the sports culture in the US is as sexist as the UK as I am going to explain.

The US Women’s team is the beneficiary of a US Government law – namely Title IX. Passed in 1972 this law states that:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded form participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to, discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

And this includes sport. That means schools and universities In the US cannot discriminate against girls/women when it comes to sport. The UK government passed the country’s equivalent to Title IX – called the Sex Discrimination Act – in 1975. However sport was not included in the Act (probably because the UK Government in 1975 had a majority of just 3 seats and would probably have lost any bid to include sport in the Act) therefore sportswomen did not gain protection from sex discrimination. Feminist campaigner Helena Morrissey recently called for a UK Title IX but just like 40 years ago the UK Government has a small majority (11) would struggle to get a UK Title IX through Parliament and UK sports fans are so sexist any Government that tried to bring sex discrimination law into sport – but especially football – would be committing electoral suicide.

Jean Williams (in “A Beautiful Game” page 34) called the US Women’s football team “The daughters of Title IX”. But Title IX is not enough on its own. The US women benefit from another piece of luck. The fact that football is not part of the male sporting establishment in the US. The history of sport shows that the more a sport is part of the male establishment the less tolerant of women it is. In the UK football cricket and rugby are the male establishment sports and historically they have been less tolerant of women (the English FA banned women’s football for a scarcely credible 50 years).

The US establishment sports – baseball, basketball and grid iron football – are if anything even more hostile to women than their UK counterparts. Women who want to play grid iron football have to play it in their underwear in the so called Legends Football League (formally the Lingerie Football League. Sepp Blatter would approve). As for baseball once girls leave Little League they are – how will I put it – “encouraged” to play softball instead. Basketball does have a women’s professional league – the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) but a recent incident shows how little regarded women basketball players are.

Last week Chicago Sky star Elena Delle Donne scored a career high 45 points in a WNBA game. The response to her feat was a hail of sexist abuse on Twitter:

“I’d rather watch professional lawn mowing”.

“I’d rather watch paint dry”.

“Women aren’t capable of playing sports”.

“That doesn’t look like a kitchen to me”.

“Yeah against what competition? I could score 45 points on them”

“Where is the oven?”

“The WNBA is a joke and completely unwatchable”

“In a WNBA game witnessed by dozens”

That is exactly the sort of sexist abuse that female footballers get in the UK. And although former NBA commissioner David Stern predicted in 2009 that women could play in the NBA within 10 years – impossible in the Premier League in England where the law of the UK prohibits it – his voice is very much in the minority. Last week Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated tweeted that “women’s sports in general are not worth watching” (he later deleted the tweet but the damage has been done).

This helps women’s football in the US because schools and universities in order to comply with Title IX – and keep women away from grid iron football basketball and baseball – used football – a little regarded sport in the US of the 1970s – to provide the female teams needed to obey Title IX. Had male football been more popular in the US this would not have happened.  These school/university teams laid the foundation for the US winning the 1991 and 1999 World Cup and the 1996,2004,2008 and 2012 Olympics which in turn increased the popularity of the sport.

So the fact is that the US women’s football team is more popular than its English counterpart does not mean that the US is less sexist than the UK when it comes to sport. They are just the lucky beneficiaries of a law that the UK doesn’t have and the fact that their sport is not part of the sexist sporting establishment as it is in the UK. So  the fact that women’s football is more tolerated and popular in the US than the UK is not a stick to beat the UK with. To say sexism  does not exist in US sport is rubbish. It does. Just not in football.

A memo to the UK FAs : Please let these women go to Rio

So England’s women gave Norway “a hell of a beating”. Well they didn’t really. They were poor in the first half and relied on their keeper Karen Bardsley to bail them out. But once captain Steph Houghton scored an unexpected equaliser England took control and the winning goal by Lucy Bronze (a defender by the way) was magnificent and would not have been disowned by a Premier League player. So onwards and upwards and with the unimpressive hosts Canada in wait there is a 50-50 chance this story continues past Saturday.

But there is a cloud on the horizon. As I wrote in another post the top three European finishers in this event go to the Olympics in Rio next year. There are four European teams left in the event.  England France and Germany are already in the Quarter Finals and Holland play defending champions Japan tonight – and are expected to lose. If they do there will be three European teams left and the issue of Olympic qualification will be sorted out.

Except it won’t be. Because England can’t take part. FIFA have given the other three UK FAs – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – a veto over the women’s participation in the Olympics. And guess what? They have vetoed it. This is absolutely shameful.

Now the reason the three FAs have given for this is that they are scared that if the England women took part in the Olympics as Team GB they would lose their independent voice in FIFA and lose their own football teams. That is the reason they give But it is false. FIFA have said there is no threat – and male and female GB teams took part in the 2012 Olympics and the four UK teams are still there. I don’t think there is any reason to fear that one.

They are not scared of losing their separate national teams. What they are scared of is losing their privileges. The five star hotels. The luxury flights. The right to travel around the world. The right to have a veto over the laws of football (the four UK FAs have four votes out of eight on the International Football Association Board (IFAB) which controls the laws of football). The right of the UK to provide one of FIFA’s vice Presidents. That is what they are scared of.

The funny thing is that these three FAs claim to support women’s football. Tripe. Utter tripe. If these idiots cared about women’s football they will recognise that the Olympics are vital to women’s football. The last Olympics (with its 73,000 gate for GB V Brazil and its 80,000 gate for the Final) proved this. Any FA that cared about women’s football should snatch at the chance that last night’s victory might have given England.

The UK Government should intervene. If the English FA won’t “go it alone” and ignore the other three then all male professional football in England should be shut down from August 1st. It is easy enough done. All male football grounds in England need a licence to be able to stage matches. it would be easy to take the licences away. Faced with a catastrophic loss of income and pressure from the big English clubs  the FA would buckle – and very quickly.

If Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland don’t agree Swansea should be thrown out of the English Premier League. Wales should not be allowed to be British when it suits them and Welsh when it does not. I admire Swansea but they have to be sacrificed for the greater good. The Welsh have their own League. If they don’t want to have a GB women’s team they should not be taking part in the Premier League.

Also Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland should be pulled out of the men’s Euro 2016. Easy enough done. All you need to do is take the passports of the players away so they can’t go abroad. All three have a chance of being at Euro 2016. I reckon even the threat of them not being able to take part will make the three FAs back down.

These plans are draconian – but would not be needed. I suspect even the threat would force “the three dinosaurs” to back down. The reason they give for not letting the women go to the Olympics is fear of the loss of privileges. If you threaten them with just that they will back down.

Last month UK Prime Minister David Cameron appointed Tracey Crouch – a former player now a coach – as Sports Minister. She clearly cares about women’s football. Now is her chance to put her money where her mouth is. She should say that England’s women MUST go to the Olympics next year. She should persuade. She should threaten. She should bang heads together. She should NOT take no for an answer. For the good of women’s football in the UK do it Tracey. These women (assuming Holland don’t upset the applecart and beat Japan) have EARNED the right to take part in the Olympics. The outdated, sexist, parochial and pathetic Scottish Welsh and Northern Irish FAs should NOT be allowed to take that away from them. if they do, their men should have Euro 2016 taken away from them. See how they like something that means a lot to them being taken away …

For women’s football to suceed the culture of UK football must change

So the Women’s World Cup has been going on for a week – and predictably the dinosaurs have come out of hiding. The worst comment has come from Marconi Aureilo Cunha head of women’s football development at the Brazilian FA who thinks make up and shorter shorts is the key to growing women’s football. Its obvious this twit would vote for Sepp Blatter in a FIFA Presidential election. God knows what Marta – the best player in the world – thinks of that. If I were her I’d have done a Diego Costa quit Brazil and qualify to play for a country that treats female footballers with more respect.

That would not be the UK. A friend of mine – who has never seen a women’s game – thinks you could pick eleven men off the electoral register at random and they would beat the eleven best women. And when Oliver Holt wrote a sympathetic article on women’s football in the Mail on Sunday the comments were horrific. They were complaints that women’s football was being rammed down people’s throats by the BBC (and here is me thinking TV sets have remote controls so you can easily get away from anything you don’t want to watch. I don’t like golf. Guess what? I choose not to watch it!) But I suspect it is partly the culture of male football in the UK that makes it hard for women’s football to be accepted here.

The perception of women’s football in the UK is that with the ball at their feet women can be as skilful as men but the game lacks pace and power. I should say I am not saying that is true. The skill bit is. Anyone who has seen goals by Eugenie Le Sommer, Maren Mjelde and Daniela Montoya – among others at this World Cup  – will agree with Jean Williams when she writes (in “A Game for Rough Girls?” page 121) that “Girls and women are clearly physically able to execute the skills”. That makes football different from say baseball where I don’t think women can hit 400 foot home runs or throw 95 mph fastballs. But it doesn’t matter if the perception is true or not. That is what people think about women’s football (even the players themselves think this).

That would not be a problem for women’s football if football fans liked skill. But in my opinion UK football culture does not think skill is as important as pace power and tackling and that is why women’s football struggles to gain public acceptance. There are plenty examples of this attitude. In the 1970s skilful players were called “fanny merchants” by fans. Note the reference to female anatomy. Glenn Hoddle – one of the most skilful players English football has produced was nicknamed “Glenda” by the UK press because he didn’t tackle and run about like an idiot. Again note the female reference. And this continues to this day. Andy Gray – in the second most ludicrous thing he ever said – kept saying about Lionel Messi – a candidate for the greatest footballer of all time – “Could he do it on a cold rainy night at Stoke?”. He said this because Stoke at the time were the most physical team in the Premier League (they have refined their style since then).  The implication being that small skilful players can’t cope with the physicality of English football. Only a culture that holds skill in contempt would even dream of asking that question.

More examples of this culture come from German football writer/broadcaster Raphael Honigstein. In his book “Englisher Fussball” he writes that “during a Sunday kickabout in England you get tackled to bits” and that English players “steam into each bone crunching challenge with a happy sense of abandon”. Yet no one would say German football was soft and even a German was horrified  by the physicality of our game.

And the fact that Lee Cattermole gets employment in the Premier League sums up the UK football culture. Cattermole is a physical player who loves to tackle. He got 14 bookings in the Premier League in the season just finished. But as the Daily Telegraph put it in March 2014 “He struggles with the ball at his feet”. Yes you have read it right. A guy who struggles with the ball at his feet earns a living playing football (the clue is in the name of the sport). There are a lot of women in Canada who don’t struggle with the ball at their feet and yet earn less than this nonentity who in my opinion would not gain employment as a footballer in any other country in Europe. I should stress that tackling and power have a place in football but surely if you win the ball in a tackle you should be able to know what to do with it.

This football mentality is also in my opinion why England’s men have failed to win a major international event since 1966. And it explains one of the fundamental reasons why women’s football is not accepted here (there are plenty of others). But if a sport is perceived to be skilful in a culture that doses not regard skill as highly as pace power and tackling it will struggle to gain acceptance. Until the whole culture of UK football changes women’s football will always struggle to gain the recognition it deserves. And even for those who don’t care about women’s football there should be a motive for getting rid of the likes of Lee Cattermole and prioritising skill over physicality. It might give England’s men a chance of winning something again…

Beware the Number one draft pick

As I’ve written earlier there is a lot sport here in the UK could learn from the US. One thing I hope we never have in the UK is the draft – where clubs take their pick of the best young talent. But the young high school/college players don’t have a say in who they sign for. They can refuse to sign – pitcher Mark Appel was drafted by the Pirates in 2012 didn’t sign reappeared in the draft the next year and did sign for the Astros – but can’t go anywhere else. To my mind you should always have the right to choose your employer – but sport is always above the law so that is a pipe dream.

The other thing I don’t like about baseball’s draft is that it rewards failure. The franchises pick in reverse order of their record the previous year. So in 2015 the Diamondbacks – who had the worst record in 2014 – get first pick. I just don’t like the idea of mediocrity being rewarded. An example. The 2003 Tigers stank – they lost 119 games that year. In fact had they not won five of their last six they would have been the worst team in Major League history. Their reward? They got Justin Verlander in the 2004 draft (although as I’ll write later they might not have). In UK sport a team that bad would have been demoted from the division not rewarded with a brilliant prospect.

If I were in charge of baseball I’d copy the National Basketball Association (NBA) and have a lottery. Put the ten worst teams into a draw and decide the first ten picks that way. It means the bad teams still get early picks but there is no incentive to “tank” in order to get the No 1 pick. (I’m not saying that happens. But it could).

One difference between the baseball draft and the (American) Football and basketball ones is publicity. The MLB draft is live in the US – but only on MLB’s own network. While in the UK both the NBA and NFL drafts are on general sports channels but baseball’s not at all. This is partly because even the best talent goes to the minor leagues to learn their trade rather than straight into the majors as happens in the NFL and  NBA. Only one player in the 2014 MLB draft – pitcher Brandon Finnegan of the Royals – played in the majors before 2014 was out. In fact he played in both the College World Series and the MLB one in 2014 and he’ll be remembered for this even if he achieves nothing else in his career.

Whatever I think of the draft I bet there will be a lot of nervous young men on Monday wondering if they will get picked. It must be like waiting for your school exam results to come. And one young man will get a lot of publicity on Monday. Whoever the Diamondbacks pick will be the Number 1 draft pick and his name will get the headlines. I find it fascinating to look at No 1 draft picks for it just shows that – as in all sports – it is hard to guess which youngsters will succeed  – and which ones will fail.

Since the current MLB draft begun in 1965 the Number 1 picks have turned out to be a mixed bunch. Some are famous names – among current players Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez Josh Hamilton  (though he never played for the Devil Rays who drafted him No 1 in 1999 and didn’t make his MLB debut until 2007 – for the Reds) Joe Mauer and David Price were no 1 picks who clearly have become stars. In the future Bryce Harper (definitely) and Stephen Strasburg (perhaps) will join them. Among all Number 1 picks none have made the Hall of Fame but with Ken Griffey Jr (drafted in 1987) and Chipper Jones (drafted in 1990)) both in my opinion first ballot certs coming up for election in 2016 and 2018 respectively that will change. But there have been some failures too.

Discounting the last three no 1 picks* three number 1 picks never played in the Majors. Steve Chillcott (1966) and Brian Taylor (1991) plus one of my two favourite draft  stories.

In 2004 for some reason I’ve forgotten (they weren’t the worse team in 2003) the Padres had first draft pick. They could (as I mentioned above) have picked Justin Verlander.  Apparently they wanted Jered Weaver – who turned into an ace for the Angels-  or Stephen Drew – a solid pro who has been part of a World Champion team – the 2013 Red Sox. But to save money – or so it is believed  – they picked local shortstop Matt Bush. A disaster both on the field – he never made it beyond Double A at either the Padres or the Rays despite reinventing himself as a pitcher when his hitting failed – and off the field – he is now inmate number C07392 in Mayo Correctional Institute after a drink driving incident(not his first brush with the law) in 2012. That pick must be one of the biggest mistakes in all sport never mind baseball**.

If that was a mistake by one franchise the 2009 draft was a case of franchises making a collective mistake. Today Mike Trout is considered the beat player in baseball. But in the 2009 draft he was only number 25 pick. Nineteen franchises missed the chance of drafting him. Two other franchises – the Nationals and Diamondbacks – missed two chances to draft him as they had compensation picks for losing free agents. Instead of Trout my team the Rangers drafted pitcher Matt Purke – who didn’t even sign and when he entered the draft again in 2011 the Nationals drafted him in the third round – suggesting the Rangers had over rated him. And we could have had Trout.

Even the Angels were lucky to get him. They had two compensation picks that year for losing free agents. They used their first on…Randal Grichuk. To be fair not a Bush style disaster. He has played in the Majors albeit for the Cardinals. It was with their second compensation pick that they drafted Trout. And this has led to the most interesting counterfactual in baseball.

The pick the Angels used to pick Trout was a compensation for the Yankees signing free agent Mark Teixeira. Now we don’t know if the Yankees would have drafted Trout but he is from New Jersey and Derek Jeter was his childhood hero. So it is at least possible that in a parallel universe Trout signs for the Yankees and is the heir to the likes of Ruth, Mantle Gehrig and Jeter among others. I wonder if they would send Teixeira back to Anaheim if the Angels gave them Trout? I suspect the Yankees would. The Angels I suspect would tell them to get lost.

The point of these stories is that spotting young talent is an inexact science. Can’t miss prospects fail. Little regarded youngsters can become stars. All sport is littered with both examples. Whoever the Diamondbacks draft number 1 on Monday we don’t know if he will be another Ken Griffey Jr…or another Matt Bush.  And that is the great thing about sport. if it was predictable we would never watch it.

*None of the last three Number 1 picks (all drafted by the Astros) have reached the Majors yet but it is clearly too early to judge. The 2012 top pick Carlos Correa will I predict be called up before 2015 is out. But in contrast Appel (picked in 2013) has a 5.20 ERA at AA level and the Astros did not even sign 2014 pick Brady Aiken partly because of health worries. And since he has now become yet another young pitcher to have Tommy John surgery  those worries seem to be justified. So far you would say the score is one out of three. Just proves how hard predicting the future is.

**Update: On Friday 13th May 2016 Matt Bush made his MLB debut for my team the Texas Rangers striking out the reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson with 97 mph heat.Today he was the winning pitcher in a 7-6 Rangers win over the Blue Jays. Moral of the story : If at first you don’t succeed try try again…

Who’ll be the Queens of Canada?

The Football World Cup starts on Saturday. I suspect most people reading this will think “Wasn’t the football World Cup last year?” Well yes – but this year it is the Women’s World Cup in Canada (for simplicity’s sake – and to annoy sexist FIFA – I’ll be hitherto calling it the World Cup). So I thought I’d try another preview/prediction post. What can we expect in Canada over the next month?

It should be an exciting event despite two complaints. Twenty four teams is a ridiculous number. The women’s game has improved so that 16 teams was too few – but it should have gone up to 32. First it would have gave women equality to men and secondly twenty four is an uneven number that means third place teams have to go into the knockout rounds which makes the tournament harder to predict. The second beef is the artificial turf. No more needs be said. A men’s World cup will be played on turf on the twelfth of never. The women should be playing on grass. But having made those complaints what might happen in Canada. First let us look at the groups:

Group A – Canada, China, New Zealand, Holland – What Canada will turn up? At the 2011 World Cup they lost every game. Just a year later they got a bronze medal at the Olympics. They have the players – especially Christine Sinclair – but can they cope with being hosts? I think they can. Home advantage helped Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics and I think it will help them here. A Semi Final is a possibility perhaps even the Final. Of the other teams in the group Holland could have done well – but young prodigy Vivianne Miedema will miss the first game and might miss more. Without this player they would not be in Canada and won’t be able to compete here. At the 2013 Euros Holland (without Miedema) did not score a goal. New Zealand will compete well. Even against good teams  – Great Britain (at the Olympics), Brazil, France and Japan – they lose narrowly. While it will be interesting if China – who lost the 1999 World Cup only on penalty kicks – have begun to reverse their decline.

Predicted Qualifiers – Canada, New Zealand, Holland

Group B – Germany, Norway, Thailand, Ivory Coast – One of the more clear cut groups. Germany are one of the elite teams. Stuffed with stars – Celia Sasic, Nadine Angerer and the brilliant Dzenifer Marozan – they could well win a World Cup for the second year running. European runners up Norway should qualify with them. Thailand and the Ivory Coast will struggle and as Germany score a lot of goals even the team that finishes third might very well not qualify as the third place teams that qualify might very well be decided on goal difference.

Predicted Qualifiers – Germany and Norway

Group C – Japan, Switzerland, Cameroon, Ecuador – Japan were surprise winners in 2011 and have been underestimated again. But they are a good team – no outstanding individuals but a team – and will make a good defence of the title. Switzerland resemble Belgium in the men’s game. At the last Euros they trailed miles behind Germany in their qualifying group but they have a group of emerging players led by the experienced Lara Dickenmann and young stars like Ramona Bachmann and they could be a surprise team. Cameroon were poor at the Olympics and will need to improve. Ecuador are an unknown quality but based on Cameroon’s form might just scrape through in third.

Predicted Qualifiers – Japan, Switzerland, Ecuador

Group D – USA, Nigeria, Sweden, Australia – Every World Cup has a group of death – and here it is. Unlike the men’s game the USA are one of the favourites with a galaxy of stars – Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, Megan Rampone among them – and they will contend again. The squad has an average of 100 caps and that is both a help (experience) and a hindrance (some – like Wambach – might be past their best). Sweden are a powerhouse of the women’s game but they have struggled in the last year – beaten 3-0 by France and 4-0 by England for example – and could be shock underachievers. Lotta Schelin might have to score a lot of goals to compensate for a leaky defence. They could be vulnerable to Nigeria – the best team in Africa and Asiast Oshola – the first BBC Women’s player of the year – could be a star. She was top scorer in the under 20 World Cup in Canada so has the advantage of knowing the grounds and the conditions. Australia – like in last year’s men’s World Cup – have an awful draw. In a different group the “Matildas” could have qualified. But not in this one.

Predicted Qualifiers – USA, Nigeria, Sweden

Group E – Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Costa Rica – An interesting group but not one that will produce the winner. Brazil have the best player in the world  – Marta – but they are not supported by their FA and do well despite a sexist FA. Also judging by the under 20 World Cup they don’t have the emerging talent that other teams do and the Marta generation might be a one off. Spain are an emerging team with the talent – especially Vero Boquette – but another sexist FA. They have had the same manager since 1988 – but as since this is their first World Cup this is because the FA don’t give a toss rather than because the team was doing well. South Korea should also go through – they boast England’s player of the year JI So -yun – while Costa Rica like Australia – might have qualified from another group and also have a star player in Shirley Cruz Trana.

Predicted Qualifiers – Brazil, Spain, South Korea

Group F – France, England, Mexico, Columbia – The qualifiers should be obvious here. France are absolutely loaded with talent but like the South African male cricket team have a reputation of crumbling under pressure. But they should win this group. England have a  lot of good players. Strikers Toni Duggan, Leanne Sanderson ,Ellen White, Eniola Aluko and Fran Kirby midfielders like Fara Williams, Jordan Nobbs and Karen Carney and defenders like Casey Stoney are examples. All are good but with Kelly Smith now retired none are outstanding and that could be England’s problem. They could be knocked out in the last 16 the last eight or  – if they play really well – they have an outside chance of a Semi Final. However they should get out of the group – probably in second place behind France. Mexico probably won’t be the threat they were in 2011 – when they drew with England and nearly stopped eventual runners up the USA from qualifying for the tournament. Columbia are described by  football writer Jennifer Doyle as “exciting” and could be dangerous but I suspect the third place team in this group won’t qualify.

Predicted Qualifiers  – France, England

So what will happen form there?. With no confidence whatsoever I predict the following:

Winners – USA. If both they and Germany win their groups and they keep on winning they will meet in the Semi Finals. The winner of that match will probably win the event and I think the USA’s experience will trump Germany’s youth.

Runners up – Japan

Semi Finals – Canada and Germany

Quarter Finals – England, France, Brazil and Switzerland

Last 16 – Ecuador, Sweden, Holland, South Korea,  New Zealand, Spain, Norway and Nigeria

My wish for the event? That the UK press behaves itself. The BBC in the UK are covering every match live for the first time and the sexists are already moaning that no one wants to watch it or it will be rubbish. First point. I want to watch it. But I don’t admit that because my friends would ridicule me. I – and I’m sure I’m not the only one – am “a shy women’s football fan”. That is because the press have made women’s football so toxic that no one will admit to liking it (there is a similarity here of course with the “shy Tories” who wouldn’t admit to voting Tory and thus made the result of the recent UK General Election such a surprise to pundits). The second point? There will be bad football at this World Cup – as there was in Brazil last year. Having sat through Nigeria v Iran and watched Brazil’s awful defending in the Germany semi-Final I know that to be true. But the vast majority of the football in Canada will be far above the level the event’s sexist critics could aspire to. I hope the press recognises this.

Good luck to all 24 teams in Canada. May the best women win!