Reporting on the 2019 Women’s World Cup: ‘It was a turning point’

One of our writers reflects on the intensity and excitement of covering 15 transformative matches in 34 days

Equal pay! Equal pay!

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I knew I would be watching history this summer. After all, it was to be the biggest ever edition of the Womens World Cup, a turning point in the development of the womens game and the best showcase of its improving quality. But as the crowd joined the US womens national team in sending the chant for equal pay echoing around the Stade de Lyon, the magnitude of the effect of this competition started to sink in. The tournament was expected to break new ground on the pitch and spur footballing change off it, but no one could have predicted the extent to which the players themselves would use their four-yearly platform to demand more than they were being given.

I tweeted Im having the time of my life during the final. I was. Five weeks in France, and a journey which ultimately began with being asked to write a weekly womens football blog in June 2017, had reached a momentary conclusion. For someone who relishes writing about the social and political effects of sport, the sporting and lets be realistic political victory of Megan Rapinoe and her US teammates was liberating.

Its hard to describe the experience of covering a first World Cup. With childcare carefully coordinated, I sped into the Gare du Nord on the Eurostar keen to start bathing in the tournament atmosphere. Yet, seemingly, France was indifferent. There were Roland Garros tennis banners lining the Champs Elyse and posters advertising the French mens national team matches in the autumn peppered around the metro, but the absence of Womens World Cup branding was stark.

Fifa had already been embroiled in a ticketing fiasco in which families had been seated separately, and which was only solved, extremely late in the day, by the complete recall and reissuing of tickets for affected games. Now it, or at least the local organising committee, had shown a disappointing level of interest in building any kind of tournament hype. And so, where the tournament build-up had been dominated by coverage of England, now attention turned to the deficiencies of the organisations responsible for hosting the showpiece competition.

More would follow. The introduction of the video assistant referee and new rules on handball and penalty kicks prompted much debate, and sparsely filled stadiums only served to reinforce the idea that not enough had been done to promote the tournament on home soil. For me, 15 matches in 34 days meant these issues, and the football itself, were experienced in a whirlwind of travel (four planes, eight trains, eight hire cars), typing and questionable levels of sleep. Now and again the editors would check in. Did I need a break? Was the latest request one too many? Could they take anything off me? Probably yes, but there was no way I was saying it. Rest was for after.

I have not covered a mens tournament, but by all accounts the camaraderie and collaboration between journalists here a mixture of young womens football writers and older, battle-hardened national writers more traditionally from the mens game was refreshing. At its centre was an entertaining England media WhatsApp group – set up for logistics, but instantly home to social organising and constant banter.

Megan
Megan Rapinoe with the trophy and Golden Boot after the US beat the Netherlands in the World Cup final. Photograph: Anna Gowthorpe/BPI/REX/Shutterstock

With the opening game came the first spine-tingling rendition of La Marseillaise, the disrespectful announcement of Eden Hazards signing by Real Madrid mid-match to push the result off back pages, and the first of many 9pm kick-offs. These late starts put print deadlines to the test. Every game required a runner – first-half copy sent at half time, second-half copy sent on 70 minutes, and a top and tail sent on the 85th. Luckily, the Sweden v Netherlands semi-final was the only match I covered which went beyond 90 minutes. Sophie Lawson though, less luckily, was tasked with her first ever runner as Scotland threw away a 3-0 lead in the last 15 minutes against Argentina. The resulting draw was not enough for either team to progress to the last 16, prompting multiple mid-game and post-match rewrites.

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It was on day 24 that I crashed under the intensity of tournament life. A day in bed, watching Love Island (the Lionesses were hooked so Im chalking that up as research), before heading out to another 9pm kick-off, somewhat recharged the batteries.

A reunion with the England press pack in the industrial jungle of Le Havre was followed by the most complete England performance of the tournament. When Jill Scotts third-minute goal slipped in, press box etiquette went out of the window and I celebrated wildly with a member of the FA communications team beside me. As Englands third against Norway, Lucy Bronzes wonder-volley, flew into the roof of the net – robbed of winning goal of the tournament by the voting masses in Brazil – the late journey from the stadium felt like so much less of a chore.

A 1-2am finish was followed by an early start for an England media day in distant Deauville, then a mad drive to Paris for the Rapinoe show against the hosts and, the next morning, a train to Lyon for a more settled, but packed, final week.

With the Lionesses ultimate test against the reigning world champions, the US, looming, tensions were whipped up by Hotelgate: England manager Phil Nevilles anger that US team officials were checking out their hotel in case they needed it for the final, the US said. I hurriedly helped arrange a press and FA group to take part in Equal Playing Fields world record attempt for the longest ever five-a-side football match at 9pm. It was exhausting but liberating a bit of mindless fun and exercise we didnt realise we needed and we returned with medals and a world record to our names. They would be the only medals coming home, as Englands run was ended with relative ease by the Americans.

But the Lionesses slightly premature departure barely quenched the thirst of Guardian readers for content. Page views rose 323% compared with Canada 2015 and the games were splashed all over the back (and occasionally the front) pages through the tournament, with words by me, my colleague Louise Taylor, regulars Caitlin Murray, Kieran Pender and Richard Parkin, and our columnists Eni Aluko and Hope Solo. While we have taken womens football more seriously than our media rivals for a long time, this was unprecedented coverage.

Also, after months of contact while working on exposing the violent sexual abuse of players by the president of the Afghanistan Football Federation, I had my first face-to-face meetings during the tournament with the countrys womens head coach, Kelly Lindsey, her assistant coach Haley Carter, and players Shabnam Ruhin and Mina Ahmadi. It was a very emotional experience.

The final at the Stade de Lyon where water was confiscated by security for not being on brand in close to 40F heat was a formality. With England out of the picture, my hopes were on a Rapinoe performance against the Netherlands that would emphatically silence her loud-mouthed presidential critic. Another penalty for the US teams purple-haired conscience ensured she bagged the Golden Boot, the Golden Ball and the all-important trophy.

Now bring on the 2021 home Euros!

Original Article : HERE ;

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