This is going to be a long Summer.
Yesterday, EA Sports, maker of the popular FIFA video game series, announced that its franchise would be incorporating female players for the first time in its history. Most people seemed to react in the manner expected, acknowledging that this mini-evolution was not before time and that, really, it was something that should have happened quite a long time ago.
But then there were others.
EA were ruining the game; they were pushing an agenda too far; this was feminism running wild. Social media chorused with the mating call of the misogynist, with its community of wall-punchers faithfully mobilising against equality.
It was as predictable as it was tedious - and it’s only going to get worse.
The next few weeks will provide an alarming insight into just how much gender-based prejudice still loiters in football. A video game controversy will, wrongly, be dismissed as an adolescent outburst, but when the Women’s World Cup begins at the start of June, then we’ll get the unflattering reflection of footballing society that we probably need to see.
England will start their campaign on 11th June against France and by that time the usual flurry of dismisiveness should be well underway. We’ll have heard tales of how women’s football isn’t a real sport, players will have been demeaningly reduced to their physical appearance, and every technical aspect of the games will have been mocked and derided.
This will be a minority, but their cat-calls will still be embarrassingly audible.
What’s interesting - or dispiriting, I suppose - is how aggressive this movement tends to be. The average football fan dislikes or holds no interest in dozens of other sports, but yet women’s football is the one that they can’t ignore. An entire Ashes Test Series or Six Nations Championship can go by without them noticing or tweeting, but put women playing football on a channel that they could easily avoid and the temptation to scorn becomes oddly irresistible.
The common mistake that gets made is to assume that all of this is just the product of outdated, antiquated attitudes, and that this is the work of cavemen who just don’t know any better. Not true, it’s not that benign. If the average person is indifferent to something or finds no enjoyment in it, then they will generally avoid it. This tribe isn’t like that, though. Instead of apathy, they choose aggression. They’re not content to simply hold an opinion, they want it to force it upon others - and not within the realms of discussion, either, but as a part of an unsettling, evangelistic crusade.
“Women must not play football.”
That’s a very proactive response and is one probably indicative of hatred rather than contempt. Old point though it may be, it’s staggering that that can still be said in 2015. Take note of some of the language that gets used during this next month and appreciate how spiky and resentful it truly is. It won’t represent ‘boys being boys’, ‘banter’ or be bracketed by of those other similarly limp excuse-terms; it’s something far less superficial.
Disliking women’s football is not a symptom of misogyny. Sports attract and repel different people for different reasons and just as there are those who are currently oblivious to what’s happening in Roland Garros, there’s nothing wrong with ignoring Canada 2015 in its entirety. But raging against its value or legitimacy purely on the basis of its participants and viscerally contesting its sporting merit? That’s a very pronounced symptom and also the manifestation of something truly dark.
For uMAXit: Farewell to the evergreen Frank Lampard, football’s superstar Everyman