So, tonight is the FIFA’s The Best 2017 Awards, held at the Palladium in London. It’s the hottest ticket in town and watching the live feed from the ‘Green Carpet’ (can you see what they’ve done there?) as the attendees arrived, certainly reinforced the sense of glamour and grandeur surrounding the occasion.
There was little debate or consternation over the shortlisted trio up for the male Player of the Year award other than in what order people might vote for Messrs Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo. It was somewhat different when it came to the three nominees for the women’s award. Social media erupted in disbelief and disgust, not particularly at those who made it into the final selection (it’s not their fault, remember) but disappointment for those omitted. How could players like Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder, who had had stellar years for both club and country, breaking records, winning trophies, leading and inspiring team mates and wowing fans, be overlooked?
You’ve heard all of the arguments and because you’re here, I’m assuming you’re a proper football fan, so we won’t go over old ground – other than to reiterate points I’ve made a few times today: that the media so quick to jump onto Megan Rapinoe’s words querying the inclusion of Deyna Castellanos and calling FIFA out on a perceived lack of ‘care’ for women’s football are actually at the root of the wider problem, being directly responsible for the lack of visibility, respect and proper coverage of the women’s game – no, I want to highlight a more concerning and troubling issue. Because as much as the process for voting for The Best Women’s Player may have proven flawed yet again (it is the same system as in the men’s game – 25% WNT captains + 25% WNT coaches + 25% media + 25% fans – but the ‘popularity contest’ that it becomes does not yet produce the appropriate or acceptable results in the women’s game), FIFA cannot be blamed for the outcome. They have even indicated that they are going to look again at the process to see if they can improve it going forward (apparently complaints don’t fall on deaf ears.)
What are we so upset with FIFA about then? Representation. Or a startlingly, noticeable, lack thereof. If they could not control the voting they definitely could take charge of how the women’s game is respected or disrespected in such a high profile event of their own design. Admittedly I didn’t watch every second of the fawning footage from the green carpet but while I had my eyes and ears on the flickering, streaming video there was a distinct lack of any female players interviewed. They did speak to Catherine Zeta Jones though (who I’d guess is probably decent with a ball at her feet and is a massive Swans fan but she’s hardly a star of the game), which was nice.
As far as our intel can gather, the sum total of female football talent there extends to Alex Scott (yep, current player and bona fide England legend) and Celia Sasic (retired, former FIFA & UEFA Player of the Year and also an absolute legend) who are both helping present awards (so is Patrick Stewart, so go figure). Also present are two of ‘The Best’ player nominees Carli Lloyd and Deyna Castellanos. Except they’ve sort of been sidelined in the seating plan, which we could blame the events organisers or production company for but I’m assuming FIFA have micro-managed this right from the start. Of course, amidst the sea of suited and booted current and ex male footballers is a bevy of WAG beauties, keeping their fellas in check. So it’s not entirely a room full of men. And Eamonn Holmes is there too. He likes Manchester United. Oh and lovely Philip Schofield (dunno what position he plays).
We’re joking a little but IS IT GOOD ENOUGH? It’s 2017!? I don’t even DO rants about sexism but seeing, is believing. Seeing, is inspiring. Things like this immediately and effectively negates all the good work a FIFA Women’s U17s or U20s World Cup in a region like South America or a country like PNG, or a LIVE YOUR GOALS campaign might do. What message does this send to young and old football fans and players from across the globe? Shouldn’t FIFA be doing better? Accepted, they at least have had this award since 2001 and they generously (it feels tokenistic, even if some of the goals have been world class belters) include at least one female on the Puskas Award list per annum but where is the ‘Women’s Team of the Year’ when there is a award for the men?
Oh and one small other thing, sadly the favourites for this evening’s two women’s categories are unable to attend due to international commitments, so if they triumph we won’t see them receive their awards in the theatre as part of the ceremony or experience one of the best and most deserved nights of their careers. You see, Monday 23rd October is slap, bang, in the middle of the International Women’s Calendar, so they are on duty with the Netherlands team as they prepare for a World Cup qualifier v Norway tomorrow. Who draws up the match calendar? Guess.
And I haven’t even started on the lack of female members of the media present, that’s another issue in itself.
Plus, I was typing so furiously I didn’t even think of this ??:
— Kelly Smith MBE (@kelly_smith10) October 23, 2017
Come on FIFA, we know you try sometimes and we applaud you when you get it right, but you haven’t tonight and you can do so much better.