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

Comments (18)
Comment by jonmid 2011-07-08 13:48:42

I've no idea if they enjoy football The same question could be asked of you Ian

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2011-07-08 14:01:58

I like women. They're ace.

Comment by Humus B. Chittenbee 2011-07-08 18:15:14

@jonmid -

I recognize what Ian is saying. The playing of any sport with a great desire and effort to win does not preclude decent behavior. As a Yank who has spent half his life overseas (from a very young age and am now 65), I came to football much earlier than the vast majority here. I am so tired of the Italian and Spanish flopping about (minimal French games available where I am - so to their actions I cannot speak.) Barcelona plays exquisite football and even they embellish. This fowl play (visualize a chicken with its head cut off) has migrated to the EPL as well - though certainly without the same level of histrionics. It has gotten to a point that I nearly cheer out loud (in front of my television) when some fellow takes a knock, spends a few seconds gathering himself, then returns to the fray - all without waving his hand in the air for a card to be issued.

Comment by jonmid 2011-07-08 20:45:25

Diving's not soemthing new to English football players like Francis Lee and Peter Lorrimer. What baffles me is all the histrionics though surely staying down flat on the floor would be a more sensible approach

Comment by Dalef65 2011-07-08 20:58:47

In much the same way as you dont get on in life by slagging off other people,Womens football isnt going to raise its profile or have its profile raised simply by criticising aspects of the Mens game.

Womens Tennis,for instance has a high profile,but you dont get the likes of Maria Sharapova slating the men,and you dont see articles saying how much more decent and honest the women are.They just get on with their game and let it speak for itself.

The point is Womens football needs to be seen and treated as a game in its own right.
It needs to stand on its own two feet(pun intended)and allowed to live (or die if necessary) on its own merits.
If people want to watch it they will,and if they dont they wont.
Quite simple really.

t doesnt need to be presented as some kind of more honest decent or puritanical version of the mens game,where there is no cynicism and peopl dont feign injury or argue with the Ref.
Because it is highly debatable whether this is true.

This article verges on some kind of over-generalised,reverse sexism,and I dont really think it does the Womens game any favours to be honest.


Comment by jonmid 2011-07-08 22:06:57

Yes I agree with Dale here I don't want women's football being used in the same way rugby is e.g. as a stick to beat with

Comment by mike wsc 2011-07-09 01:20:28

Spot on Ian, couldn't agree more. Really refreshing tournament. (Although Leena Khamis is Australian.)

Comment by Harbinger of Hope 2011-07-09 11:57:29

The main factor that noone appears to have mentioned here is money. It is well known that amateur sport is generally played in a friendly manner, but as soon as money is injected into a game you get a step change. The more money, the shitter the behaviour. Money has become so influential that many people want to change the laws of the game for it. One of the arguments used for the introduction of TV replays for making decisions is "There are millions of pounds based on that decision!".

If the female game really took off, and the stars were getting £100,000 a week, the bad behaviour would follow very quickly. Amateurs and semi-pros play for fun, professionals play to put food on the table and pay the rent. It is a simple change of mentality, and when your career is as short as a footballer, it is even more urgent to maximise those earnings. Whatever means necessary.

Comment by imp 2011-07-09 12:29:42

Thanks, Mike - my error on Khamis. It was Bruna. Wrong name, wrong team...

@ Harbinger. Indeed. The increased pace of the men's game as well as the vastly increased stakes seem to have made everyone ten times more frantic. Translating the consequences of any goal/miss/refereeing decision into cash terms is just one of the myriad irritations of how mainstream media cover the game. Having said that, I've seen men in the Montgomery County Over 35 and 45 Leagues punch, kick, scream, dive, complain and wail with the best of them, week after week, and we don't get paid a cent.

Comment by Dalef65 2011-07-09 12:38:33

Harbinger of Hope brings up a good point that the author of the original article seems to have a blind spot on.

Expose the Womens game to the same hype/publicity/scrutiny/media attention and indeed financial gain as the Men and then lets have a sensible debate as to who is the better behaved and who plays with a bigger smile on their face......

Going back to the Tennis as I mentioned before,the whole debate about squealing and grunting at Wimbledon shows that Women at the top of any game are just as liable to employ "gamesmanship" (or should that be gameswomanship....?) as any bloke.
And its the same situation in Athletics,which is another sport where the sexes have roughly equal exposure.

Lets not go too overboard with this
Men-are-nasty-but-women-play-with-a-superior-spirit malarkey.
Not only is it untrue,its also quite a bit puke-making.

Comment by Janik 2011-07-10 00:23:15

Nice dive earlier from Bompastor in the England-France match, followed by a confrontation with Kelly Smith in which Smith pushed Bompastor and Bompastor clearly told Smith to fuck off.
Iwabuchi of Japan also seemed to be throwing herself around after minimal contact, mostly ignored by the ref (who was really good). And then was Babett Peter losing the ball, pulling the Japanese girl back when she was going to be away, flinging her arms around about having the free-kick rightly given against her and then laughingd incredulously at a yellow card that the foul alone had deserved, even without the dissent. Peter, of course, was the player who deliberately elbowed Christine Sinclair on the opening day, breaking her nose. Once it became clear that Germany were struggling, players were throwing themselves to the floor under minimal contact when it was clear a cross was going over their head, in the hope of a penalty that might have saved their team (again, thankfully the Mexican ref was strong so an injustice that would have exposed the hollowness of the 'fairer game' bullshit was avoided).

I'm with Harbinger. I think the earlier games getting by with less cynicism than Men's matches was a facet of the lower stakes and nothing to do with the gender of the players. And I don't think the tournament is any worse for that cynicism getting more prevelant today. Both games were fantastic, even if players were willing to cheat and manipulate in search of victory.

Comment by jasoñ voorhees 2011-07-10 00:31:41

Any comments about the German dive in the 80th or the forward lying and saying that it was a corner when it actually came off of her head in the 104th ?

Have to go with dalef65's last post. It's all about money and pressure.

Comment by jasoñ voorhees 2011-07-10 00:34:00

Make that the 2nd paragraph of his post. Don't agree that it was malarkey, as there were excellent points raised. However, with money and pressure people will dive in a second. If they don't and still lose, it's up to the fans to make them equal to the champions.

Comment by imp 2011-07-10 11:47:07

Well, I did cite exceptions (Nigeria, Lisa de Vanna, and of course there have been others since as the competition enters the knockout phase, as cited by Janik), but I was making the point that from what I had seen so far, those playing the women's game at the top level generally behave on field far better than men, and I stand by that. The comparisons with tennis don't make any sense to me - since the era of Lendl, Connors and McEnroe there doesn't seem to have been much of a problem with gamesmanship and dissent. The technology has made arguments obsolete. In fact tennis is a fair example of a professional sport played by highly paid, highly competitive athletes who keep their mouths shut, concentrate on their game, and treat their fellow players with respect. Any grunting would seem to come from the tremendous physical effort involved, not a concerted attempt to distract the opponent. Ian.

Comment by imp 2011-07-10 12:54:58

Oh, and one more thing re. Janik's list of yesterday's 'transgressions'. How long would a similar list be for two men's WC quarter-finals? Will anyone do a sportsmanship stat count comparing this year's final with Spain-Holland?

Comment by Janik 2011-07-10 17:58:19

Well, that would include Suarez, wouldn't in? Nothing like that happened, but there wasn't a similar situation for someone to try, so we will never know.

The USA-Brazil game could be about to get quite nasty.

Comment by Jean Williams 2011-07-12 19:24:00

Yes the commentaries seem to get this about right to me. Women are not the moral guardians of football any more than they are moral guardians of anything else. One of the finest victories in Women's World Cup history-USA in 99 in front of 93,000 people in Rosebowl- was won on penalties because the goalie deliberately came off her line repeatedly and deliberately. Brazil v USA on 10/7/11 was a master class of fantastic skills & gamesmanship after a Brazil own-goal.
it gets pretty tedious this, men's football is one thing, women's football is another argument. It's the same game. Watch it or don't watch it. I don't think there are any parallels with tennis, which seems to be about how women are coached to grunt etc. I personally love Marta and the Brazil team but also the relentlessness of the USAs fitness. Plus, don't we all love a bit of gamesmanship? We regularly vote hand of god in top tens of our favourite goals now it's officially not Too Soon. We are just gobsmacked when Michael Owen or one of our own do this. Maybe Kelly Smith should have taken a leaf from his book and we'd still be in. But then, England like to be martyrs too.

Comment by imp 2011-07-12 20:54:58

Well, one week later and I accept that the tournament's level of sportsmanship has sadly taken a small dive, so to speak. Where does that leave the argument that it's all about money? For this tournament, dead in the water (and I think that, broadly speaking, blaming money is too simplistic an argument). Did I idealise the women's game, thereby engaging in reverse sexism? I'll take that charge on the chin, but the piece was honestly based on the overall behaviour of players at the Women's World Cup compared with the men's, and on the evidence I don't think it was inaccurate. If I'd seen more of the men's (boys'?) U17 World Cup I might have made a similar comparison, many of the players still being too young to have learnt all the tricks of professionalism. It's maybe more of an issue of culture within the various footballing realms, but it's nigh impossible to avoid the issue of gender when comparing men's and women's football.

I don't think, reading back, that I was saying, "Women are better people because when playing football they moan, dive and cheat less than men." I hope that I managed to convey something along the lines of, "Myself and my two football-playing daughters are really enjoying watching women's football in part because they moan, cheat and dive a lot less than the men," and that it's perfectly possible to be competitive without cheating. (Anyone spot World's Best Player Lionel Messi taking a big dive in the penalty area against Costa Rica U23s last night? Why does a player with such abundant skill need to cheat?) And with a little more levity: looking at the men's game, it's a little ironic that men commonly like to depict women as the drama queens.

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