Women's vs. Men's World Cup
The Women's World Cup in France is a remarkable event for the sport and for the fight for more support to women's football and female athletes. I am now in England taking my FA coaching course and while watching Japan vs. England on TV, a comment from Dion Dubblin really got my attention. He asked Alex Sott if due to physical strength and power differences, the women's game has less fouls than the men's game. Alex Scott agreed with him.
Both of them are good commentators. Alex Scott, a former player for England National Team, does a great job analyzing the game, and I respect her so much for her professionalism and knowledge. However, what both of them confirmed in public television is even true? Does that even make sense? Or did they just wasted a GREAT opportunity to talk about the consequences of gender stereotype and the way we pursue this gender dualism as society?
Think with me: According to those commentators analysis, we are making a correlation between power/strength and contact/collision. The strongest and fastest is the game, the more fouls the game would have.
So let's use a metaphor to understand this analysis. Formula 1 race is commonly known to be the fastest race in the World. The cars are powerful and fast, but still we do not see often collisions, right? Therefore, in such an expensive and elite level of race, the F1 drivers have one thing in common regardless of who they are racing for: their superb technical ability.
Why collisions in football has to be correlated to physical ability?
In the World Cup level, where you would expect the best footballer in the World, if I am a fast and strong defender, I will probably be playing against just as fast and strong attacker. We are seeing a faster game, but it does not necessarily mean a game with higher probability of collisions and contact. As a defender, I won't be able to tackle any player who is just as fast as I am. The same thing happens in the women's game. It is women playing against women, with some exceptions, players have similar speed and strength. Obviously, because the women's game is not given the homogenous support around the globe. We have teams who are more privileged demographically, technologically, financially, better culture acceptance, and etc. But in general, the highest is the level the more similar is the athletic ability.
Because I am in England, and those comments came from England commentators, and both of England National Teams (men and women) are in a similar phase, I decided to look over the statistics from the Men's World Cup Game in Russia (2018) and Women's World Cup in France now. We will be looking into Fouls only.
Let's start with the game previously discussed:
England 2 vs. 0 Japan, Women's World Cup Group stage.
Now let's compare to a game with a similar score during the quarter finals. Which in theory should be a more aggressive game.
England 2 vs. 0 Sweden, Men's World Cup.
Only 2 fouls difference.
Let's now look to Australia 1 vs. 2 Italy during group stage, Women's World Cup.
Let's compare this game with England 0 vs. 2 Belgium, Men's World Cup Semi-Finals.
The difference is easily noticeable
A last example: England 1 vs. 0 Argentina for group stage, Women's World Cup.
England 2 vs. 1 Tunisia for group stage, Men's World Cup.
Only 2 fouls difference.
Whenever we talk about gender stereotyping, it is important to know that there is a pattern to look at gender differences and those patterns should not be used to generalize. We should be able to look at each case as unique and understand the situation as whole.
Especially when comes to football, a sport that can constantly surprise us. Countries have different style of playing. Moments require different attitudes. Some nations tend to be more technical teams, others tend to be more physical. However, even that can be changed according to who is influencing that nation at that time. Teams play differently when led by different coaches.
The more trained, tactical disciplined and technical savvy, the less the team will rely on fouls. Fouls are also a strategic tool to stop a play, it does not necessarily correlates with the physicality of the game. Usually, when a team has more possession of the ball or feels superior in the game, then the less the players of that team would put themselves in unnecessary collisions. The same happens when a team is already classified for the next phase of the World Cup. The tendency is to avoid unnecessary injury or cards, which was the case during that game England vs. Japan.
However, if there are, in fact, less fouls in the women's game when comparing to the men's game, I could have one thought about this: as a Brazilian football player, I have constantly hoped that people would appreciate the women's football just as much as they do with the men's game. Growing up listening to comments such as "Football is a men's game", "women does not know how to play football", or "Don't you think football is too aggressive for women?", I have always tried to show more than a normal men would have to show to prove that I could play. I can guarantee that those players playing the most popular Women's World Cup ever, besides everything they already need to worry about in and out of the pitch, they are also trying to show a game more technical, more knowledgeable, more classy, and more attractive to the spectator. Then hopefully the world can accept that we can also play football and deserve respect and support.
The commentators of BBC instead of focusing on the amazing performance of England and how good technically and smart the players looked, Dion and Alex took the opportunity to indirectly criticize the strength of women's body saying that the game is slow and not aggressive enough, diminishing and underestimating the England and Japan performance. Side note: Japan Women's Team who is the only nation that has ever won a World Cup in all categories (Adult- 2011, U17 - 2014, U20- 2018), perhaps committing limited amount of fouls is not a bad thing.
We need to be more educated before we compare men's and women's football. I love the curiosity to always trying to find the differences between the genders, and I do believe there are some interesting findings. However, are we aware when we are solely embracing gender stereotype, accepting it as our reality without even challenging it?