Women's World Cup Miscellany: A First XI

Can you be a ‘football scholar’ and not appreciate a World Cup?  Even if you get frustrated by the politics and/or the play, the spectacle of a particular, peculiar version of the modern world on stage always seems to cry for interpretation and engagement.  And, sometimes, ever so briefly, for letting slip the critical lens to simply enjoy a good game of football.

This 2011 Women’s World Cup, to conclude on Sunday in Frankfurt, has offered up a bevy of both cultural artifacts to deconstruct and the beautiful game to savor.  So it seems like a grand occasion for the next iteration of a FSF First Eleven—an eclectic attempt to highlight works that might be thought/reaction-provoking for scholars, even if not explicitly scholarly.  I’ve gotten a few suggestions from others, and I’m sure I’m missing much other good work, but I make no claims on being comprehensive.  Instead, the hope is to try to help create spaces for exchanging and enriching perspectives related to the game—this time specifically related to the women’s game and with particular emphasis on this World Cup—so please feel free to add, suggest, or critique in the comments or via email [drewguest(at)hotmail.com].  And allow me the immodest liberty of mentioning one of my own modest efforts from a few years back, since it was a collaboration with current US team member Stephanie Cox (the article is based on her senior thesis data from working with me at the University of Portland—a true scholar-athlete!).

But without further ado, here’s a first eleven:

1) Fittingly, the last Football Scholars Forum meeting of the Spring was led by Jennifer Doyle, who’s been offering up much excellent, thoughtful, and thought-provoking analysis of the Women’s World Cup on her blog From a Left Wing (see particularly Nigeria’s GamePerspective on Equatorial Guinea’s Controversies; and any of the many other relevant posts) and on foxsoccer.com (see particularly Recovering from Football’s Divorce; Where [the hell] is Spain?; and Fifa treats the women’s game as a burden).

2) Another impressively prolific FSF’er around this Women’s World Cup is our Soccer Empire author Laurent Dubois on his Soccer Politics blog (see particularly Referees and Redemption and on Louisa Necib).  Combine reading Doyle and Dubois and you can’t help but feel enlightened.

3) The New York Times has had some interesting coverage throughout the tournament, including a post to the Goal blog by Football Scholar John Turnbull: In Columbia, a Soccer Paradox.  Other thought provoking pieces in the Times include those on German efforts to accommodate social diversity and on claims of homophobia in the Nigerian team – an article on which Peter Alegi offered a useful critique.

4) After watching a few of the games in Germany, Football Scholar Martha Saavedra suggested checking out some of the material in German, including that from emma.de (see, for example, this piece on signs of progress against homophobia in the German women’s game) and from kicker.de.  If you can read German or stumble along with Google’s translator, it looks to be interesting coverage (I also checked Spiegel International–and they don’t seem to have much, thought this note on attempts to have “Baby Elephant Oracle Nelly” replace Paul the Octopus is amusing).  Martha also mentioned the issue of several high level German players (not members of the World Cup team) posing for Playboy—see critical analysis From a Left Wing here, and from When Saturday Comes here.

5) This Women’s World Cup is also offering an opportunity to reconsider the classic chicken and egg problem for women’s sports: which comes first, good TV ratings or good TV coverage?  Georgina Turner offered some perspectives on the ratings and coverage issue at Sports Illustrated (an article suggested by FSF member Rwany Sibaja), reminding me of last year’s study by Michael Messner and colleagues showing that coverage of women’s sports (not soccer specific) on American television has declined from 5% of airtime in 1989 to 1.6% in 2009 (see a summary here and a PDF of the study here).  But it looks like the ratings for the US v Brazil quarterfinal were good, and it will be interesting to watch what happens for the Final with another game on a week-end morning.

6) Speaking of media coverage, I’m curious if any football scholars have reactions to the first Women’s World Cup in the ESPNW era?  I actually found the “Her/oics” documentary series fairly well done, with pieces on Marta, on a Spanish seniors football club, on Kelly Smith’s struggles with alcoholism and depression, on soccer as buffer against SoCal gang troubles, on a female Congolese referee, and on Australian Lisa DeVanna.  But I haven’t seen much in the way of critical reception?

7) Is it just me, or does the coverage of this Women’s World Cup seem to pay less attention to the types of social marketing stuff that was all over the South Africa 2010?  I did follow with some interest the “Discover Football” women’s tournament run in Berlin for “teams [from around the world] that play against the odds, in spite of the difficulties they encounter as women soccer players” as judged by the head of the German football federation and the head of the WWC organizing committee among others.  For examples of coverage, here’s NPR and here’s a CBC blogger.  As an interesting twist noted on the CBC blog, the entire Cameroonian team at the tournament seems to have overstayed their visas and ‘gone missing.’

8) Continuing the football and development theme, streetfootballworld has been promoting a page devoted to programs and organizations that are “empowering girls and women” through the game.  An interesting scholarly complement might be the 2011 Routledge Handbook of Sports Development which, though not football specific, includes chapters titled provocative things such as “A postcolonial feminist approach to gender, development and Edusport.”

9) Since it is only 11 years until the first World Cup in the Middle East, this Women’s World Cup offers a chance to check in on ongoing tensions around the role of women’s football in that part of the world: Football Scholar James M. Dorsey highlighted controversial comments from a Kuwaiti lawmaker claiming that “Women playing football is unacceptable and contrary to human nature and good customs.”  Dorsey also documented “Iranian photographer and women’s soccer rights activist” Maryam Majd being “detained” on her way to cover the Women’s World Cup.  All of which is not to mention the recent controversies around FIFA banning the Iranian women’s team for wearing an “Islamic strip.” (as an example of the critical response, here’s a Guardian comment by Arash Sedighi)

10) One piece of academic work that has been getting a fair bit of coverage during this Women’s World Cup is a study out of Wake Forest University suggesting that women tend to fake injuries less often than men (here’s links to coverage in the New York Times and the LA Times).  Given the end of the US v Brazil game, this would seem to be an interestingly timed publication!

11) Finally, in regard to the challenges still facing many girls and women around the world who still want to simply play the game, some reminders include a Roger Bennett article for ESPN on the women’s game in Brazil (banned by law until 1979), a 2007 AlJazeera segment on the women’s game in Egypt, and a documentary on the Tanzanian women’s national team. (Why is Tanzania such a hub for women’s football documentaries?  Zanzibar Soccer Queens is another of my favorites.)

Here’s to hoping the US v Japan final lives up to what has been a most enjoyable tournament, and to hoping that enjoyment eventually translates into good scholarly work!

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