Back on May 22, one of the biggest FIFA stories of the week was that Sepp Blatter and other executives met Alex Morgan at the 2012 World Player of the Year event and didn’t know who she was. Ah, such innocent times at the governing body. As the women’s World Cup gets underway in Canada on Saturday, it’s hard not to conclude that the current scandal engulfing Blatter and friends is going to prevent a load more people from learning the identity of U.S. soccer’s biggest female star. Perhaps biggest star, period, post-Landon Donovan. Turns out that forcing women to play on artificial turf was not the worst thing that could have happened to the 2015 World Cup.
The avalanche of FIFA corruption stories in the past eight days has all but submerged the women’s World Cup’s media profile. That’s sheer bad luck, not sexism – it’s natural that the revelations are dominating the news agenda and commanding large amounts of news organization resources. It’s one of the biggest stories of the year ,and every day brings a fresh angle.
In the long run, maybe the upheaval at the governing body will help the women’s game. Perhaps it will lead to the appointment of a president and senior figures who both know who Alex Morgan is and actually care, as well. Maybe there’ll even be some women in powerful positions one day.
But this month, no one is talking or reading about Canada 2015 except those who already like women’s soccer. The tournament’s chance to set the world soccer media agenda during what should have been a quiet summer is gone.
All the headlines are focused on the men’s iteration of the tournament: could 2018 be stripped from Russia, and might Qatar lose 2022? Is England ready to step in? Will the U.S. investigation hurt 2026 prospects? Was the 1998 bidding process dodgy? How about 2010, and 2014?
And that’s a problem considering that every four years the World Cup is the most important opportunity to promote the women’s game to the mainstream audiences that otherwise ignore it. Sure, there’s the Olympics, but soccer there is just one sport among dozens. The World Cup is the true showpiece, and this year, with the tournament taking place north of the border, the location and kick-off times are favorable to generating U.S. attention. That wasn’t the case in 2007 (China) or 2011 (Germany) and it won’t be in 2019 (France).
It’s possible that by the time of the final on July 5, the appetite for FIFA scandal will have wavered, and if the U.S. is in with a chance of winning, coverage and interest will inevitably ramp up. It’s possible that some people will look to the sight of actual matches being played as a chance for light relief and a reminder of what we’re all here for, and what the sport is really about. But right now, it’s hard not to conclude that through a coincidence of timing, FIFA has inadvertently screwed over the women’s game.
The FIFA World Cup, as a brand, just got badly stained. And the disparity in media coverage is a reminder of women’s soccer’s lowly place in the pecking order, right at the start of a tournament that is the best, perhaps only, way to change hearts, minds and editorial attitudes.