The upshot was that it’s not an easy question to answer. It’s an issue loaded with mixed emotions and misogyny, and polluted by male rage. The occasion in 2011 was the Women’s World Cup of soccer, then under way in Germany. Now we’ve just concluded the Women’s World Cup here in Canada. So let’s assess.
The Women’s World Cup is a peculiar beast of a tournament. I’ve covered many major soccer events featuring the top male players and the tournaments have their own narrative. I was reminded of this after a couple of days in Moncton recently covering the women’s tournament there. The players and their families and friends were everywhere. One evening I saw Louisa Nécib, the great French player, out for a stroll. I must have stared, looked awed, because she gave me an indulgent smile and, I’m pretty sure, winked at me.
I also met Laura Bassett, the England defender who scored that heartbreaking own goal against Japan to knock England out of the World Cup at the semi-final stage. In Moncton, Bassett was instantly recognizable because she had a black eye, the result of an elbow in the face from a French defender. When I met Bassett, she was carrying a carton of milk and a bag of other stuff from a variety store. She was visiting friends staying at a different hotel from hers.
It was unnerving, really. At the men’s World Cup or Euro tournaments, you never see the players, except on the field or on TV. It’s like they breathe a different air. They’re remote, godlike figures.
And that brings us, in a roundabout way, to the matter of how TV and other media treat #female athletes. Should they be treated as godlike superstars, or as skilled, hard-working athletes or as a charity case requiring special coverage?