8 July ~ Women, it is commonly presumed in male chauvinistic circles, love a little bit of drama. If things are too quiet, they will manufacture a reason to become upset and start a row. By contrast, men are rational, placid beings who will take control of a heated situation and restore peace and calm. And if you believe a single word of that, take a look at the Women's World Cup. It's not just that, with the possible exception of Nigeria, the women are generally trying to play football the way it's supposed to be played. It's also that they behave towards each other like normal human beings. They haven't lost sight of the fact that it's supposed to be a game, and that any drama should result solely from action on the field.
In the men's game, we've become accustomed to seeing refereeing decisions constantly disputed with fabulous energy and conviction. We're used to seeing a player who goes down under a tackle stay down, with agonised facial grimaces and Emergency Room sound effects to accompany the writhing death throes that result from the faintest of ankle taps. Squaring up to an opponent and spitting manly anger in his face is now as common on the field as it is in a South American soap opera. And despite the half-dozen cameras that can expose you as a cheat to an audience of millions, throwing yourself to the ground to deceive the referee still shows no signs of going out of fashion.
Admittedly, Australia's Lisa de Vanna got in the face of Hungarian referee Gyoengi Gaal during the second half of her side's group game with Equatorial Guinea on Sunday. But that was after an hour or so of consistently poor officiating, and was notable for being an exception to the general standards of behaviour at the Cup. Can you imagine how a men's team would have reacted to Gaal missing the longest handball in the history of the game by Equatorial Guinea's Leena Khamis in the first half? In a World Cup game? There'd probably still be a cordon of gesticulating drama kings surrounding the official now, some 48 hours later.
Women seem to know when to choose their battles. If you dispute every decision, why would the referee take your protests seriously? I refereed a boys' Under-16 game last month between two teams of a technically high standard, but who had clearly been taught to get on the referee's case and whine about every last call that went against them. I've no idea if they enjoy playing football, though they moaned some more on receiving yellow and red cards for dissent, and the match was played in an utterly miserable spirit. Shame on the coaches who instil in young men such a desperate, cynical approach to winning games.
How is it that women bring the same levels of intensity and competitiveness to football as men, but at the same time desist from behaving like shitty human beings? If men believe winning is of such absolute importance, why can't they focus that desire on improving their game instead of channelling their energy into yet more embarrassing histrionics? Why can't men smile more often when they play, like US striker Abby Wambach's laconic expression against Colombia when she somehow still couldn't get on the score sheet? Why can't men help an opponent to his feet after they've fouled him? Apologise, even. Why not ditch the relentless dramatics and replace them with a little decency instead?
Just before the tournament, former US women's star Mia Hamm pointed out that at the men's World Cup there are "people playing up tackles, or a guy gets bruised and it's like he was knocked out in the final round of a 12-round fight. You would never see a German women's player rolling around on the field. You're trying to get the ref to make a decision based on over-exaggerating something, and most of us would agree that it's not in the spirit of the game." That spirit is one of the most conspicuous factors that makes the Women's World Cup worth watching. Switch over to the Copa América, though, and you can see how that spirit has been sacrificed to the insidious emphasis on winning by any means that's long since left the men's game rotten at almost every level. Ian Plenderleith