Something noteworthy is going on in the world of women’s soccer. Even as the FIFA corruption scandal rages on, it seems to have suddenly dawned on international media outlets that to permit the firestorm to overshadow the 2015 women’s World Cup, set to kick off Saturday in Edmonton, Canada, would not only be patently unfair but might also draw pointed accusations of old-boys’-club sexism.
They’re a bit late to the table on that, however. Sports and fitness lecturer Helen Owton bemoaned the lack of discussion about the crisis’ potential effect, charging that such silence “further [trivializes] the women’s game.” Granted, a Reuters piece about a pre-tournament match between the British and Canadian women’s teams bore the headline: “The show goes on.” But for the most part, the main storylines have been less about the event and more about the scandal’s possible impact on the event.
The unfortunate aspect of this skewed focus is that the women’s tournament has the potential to be memorable on its own merits – and a much more compelling read than the latest discovery of FIFA’s latest malfeasance. After all, the 2011 women’s World Cup marked a watershed moment for the competition. Not only did it crown its first Asian champion, with Japan winning an extra-time penalty shootout to deny the United States, but other milestones included television coverage that was deemed “unprecedented” in scope and execution (thanks to use of the latest technology), the brisk sale of tickets (particularly to marquee matches) and a social media frenzy that culminated in a record-shattering 7,196 tweets per second during the final – eclipsing even the number for the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton earlier that year.
But all of the anticipation fueling the four-year build-up to this tournament was relegated to the back burner when accusations and indictments began to fly. Suddenly, mention of the 2015 women’s World Cup was limited to a line or two amid blocks of text detailing what has become the three R’s of FIFA scandal media coverage: revelations, resignations, and repudiations.
It was as if journalists worldwide, reporting in the soccer world’s myriad languages, wished to prove that they had not forgotten that a major tournament was soon to take place and yet had no intention of making the women’s game the story in and of itself. Owton’s fear that these world-class players and their individual and team accomplishments would be lost in a sea of indignation and concern over the future of the sport’s governing body seemed prescient.
Yet, as the date of kickoff drew closer, the media changed course and threw their focus and resources on the event itself. Global News published a fun list of four things to know about the World Cup in Edmonton, including news about the opening ceremonies and the economic impact on the city. The Guardian ginned up coverage in its Women’s World Cup 2015 blog, with comprehensive previews on the teams in each group and a fascinating article on how the tournament went from obscurity to the record-breaking phenomenon it has become. Business Insider identified 24 players to watch. And NBC Sports has listed its predictions, with France, Germany, Japan and the United States the favorites to win it all against such dark horses as Norway and the host, Canada.
That this surprising flurry of coverage comes as the corruption scandal grows ever juicier — with word that FIFA President Sepp Blatter has abruptly resigned despite having just been re-elected, that ex-FIFA official Chuck Blazer has admitted to taking bribes and that his former colleague Jack Warner has vowed to spill all he knows — may signal that, contrary to their more knee-jerk instincts, the world media now know where the story really is, and will be, in the coming weeks.
Or it may be tacit acknowledgment that such articles would have, and likely should have, appeared long before now. How many previews are posted weeks, even months, before the Super Bowl or the World Series? And last year’s men’s soccer World Cup was talked up, dissected and analyzed alongside — not instead of — coverage of riots protesting against holding the event in impoverished parts of Brazil.
To be clear: FIFA’s meltdown is not a story to be dismissed in a single news cycle, but the recent success the women’s tournament has enjoyed signals that its followers expect more than 11th-hour coverage, and indeed that the goal should be to focus on the action on the field.