While the Globe and Mail‘s John Doyle explicitly states in his excellent column today on coverage of the FIFA Women’s World Cup that he doesn’t “have the answers” when it comes the question to how Canada’s sports media should cover the tournament in light of the monumental elephant in the room—sex and gender politics—he does hint at what I consider the best option earlier in the piece:
On CBC, having both Clare Rustad and Jason de Vos as analysts was a bonus. Both are former players and both were interested in taking the game seriously as a game, not as a drama about one player – Sinclair – that skeptics of women’s soccer might be able to identify with. The shocking lack of co-ordinated defensive measures by Canada early in the game was discussed. Germany’s use of the midfield space to find room for overlapping wingers to surge forward was analyzed. As it should have been.
In other words, the Women’s World Cup should be covered primarily as a football tournament like any other, not a political sledge-hammer or a series of heart-warming personal stories. But that’s the ideal, not the present reality. Because of the relatively early state of development in women’s football and the old, outmoded views that still persist here and overseas in parts of Europe and Africa in particular, the satellite issues surrounding the WWC—the Playboy shoot featuring professional women footballers in Germany, the male-centric approach to sports coverage in general—are unavoidably built in to WWC coverage. Look, here I am writing about them. As did Doyle this morning.
Yet I’m convinced these non-explicitly football-related issues will slowly fade over time as the WWCs go by. Doyle criticizes the Canadian media’s reaction to the “hokey-but-true” broken-nose Christine Sinclair story from Sunday’s match with Germany, with its apparently macho story-line. Yet what’s more important than the details behind her World Cup moment is Sinclair the person.
Sport is great because it offers an immediate connection with individual athletes that goes beyond what they do on the pitch, like Cruyff battling the refs after the whistle blew at the end of the 1974 World Cup final, or Maradona’s “hand of god” remarks following Argentina’s World Cup quarterfinal victory over England. This is why sport captures our imagination, not incisive tactical analysis. The media didn’t fall in love with Sinclair because she “acted like a man,” but because of who she is as a person and an athlete.
Yes, the hockey metaphor may have been overbearing. But courage and drive aren’t “male” characteristics, and nor did Canada celebrate Sinclair’s goal because she acted “just like a guy” athlete would. She was celebrated because out of a sport whose athletes are sadly anonymous to the world came this immediately likable, hard-working, self-deprecating character, the kind of person we like to think as Canadian, at least when we’re at our best.
And that’s what women’s football needs. Marta provided the world with proof that technical agility knows no sex, but in terms of personality she’s largely a cipher. Sinclair, try as she might, can’t avoid being a compelling personality, the kind of person we’re glad to have on our team. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, she’s exactly the kind of personality who will help coverage of women’s football move beyond existential questions about sex, politics, and heart-warming stories of female machismo, and back onto boring old sporting matters, like tactical analysis and best XIs.