Olympic legacy – will women’s football in Britain continue to benefit?
WVoN Olympics editor
It’s official – women’s football has, at last, registered in the British consciousness.
The massed ranks of media pundits, experts, and fans alike agreed that the women’s tournament at London 2012 was one of its great successes.
The football was of a consistently high standard; exciting, skilful and committed. Some of us could have told the doubters a long time ago that this was going to be the case, but we are just happy that they have eventually come to the same conclusion.
And it has other attributes. Great Britain winger Karen Carney summed it up when she said:
“We get a lot of positive feedback saying we don’t dive, we don’t swear as much as the men, we have to continue to do that and be respectful….I have a five-year-old niece. .. I’d hate to be a bad role model for her.”
The statistics speak for themselves: 70,584 people were at Wembley Stadium on 31 July to see Great Britain’s women beat Brazil 1-0 in their last group game.
This is comfortably the largest crowd watching Britain’s women in this country. The attendance for the final was even more impressive with 80,203 watching the USA beat Japan 2-1.
And yes, we did go out at the quarter final stage, to a brilliant Canadian side (at least it wasn’t on penalties), but surely the spark has been ignited and coverage of this sport will from now on thrive in this country.
Or will it?
One thing is sure, the FA will not be able to do it on its own no matter how it tries to capitalise on the feel-good factor surrounding the sport.
The FA is seemingly committed to developing women’s football. Over one million women regularly play organised football in this country.
County Football Associations employ women’s football development officers and there is a strategy in place for developing female referees and officials.
But there has to be a sea-change in the way women’s football is covered in the mainstream media, given that only 5% of sports coverage features women’s sport.
The majority of this is women’s football, but the fact that no domestic games are currently shown on terrestrial television shows just how small a fraction it represents.
At first, even the women’s Olympic football was confined to the internet or red button coverage until the outcry was such that matches began to be screened on BBC2.
There are websites, such as shekicks, which are devoted to women’s football, but you have to scour the sports section of the BBC website or the daily newspapers to find even the merest mention.
The 2011 FA Cup Final, played at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry attracted an audience of 13,885, while this year’s, at Bristol City’s ground, Ashton Gate, drew a crowd of 8,723.
The match was televised live on Sky but coverage was controversially cut short before the penalty shoot out, to go to the warm up for the men’s League One play-off final between Sheffield United and Huddersfield. It is this kind of shoddy treatment that women’s football needs to overcome.
The odds are that the British team that we all fervently supported at London 2012 will be the last.
Today the FA announced that it was “unlikely” that a unified Team GB women’s team would play in Rio in 2016. It is just too difficult to sustain a “British” team rather than teams one each from the four home nations.
So the onus is on us. We need to find out our local women’s team and go out and support them.
If women’s football is to thrive in this country, we need better attendances to encourage better media coverage. In turn this will encourage attendance, and so on.
Get out there and support your local team. Badger your local press into covering women’s matches. And hopefully, eventually, women’s football on television or the back pages will become the norm not a novelty.