Patronising scheduling set the tournament up to fail but players such as Megan Rapinoe used their platform to highlight how the governing body has let them down
Gianni Infantino is one of those intensely political people who believe that as far as everyone else is concerned, there is no place for politics in football. It was just last year at some grimly political press conference in Iran, naturally that the Fifa president announced: Its very clear that politics should stay out of football and football should stay out of politics. Is it? If so, the conclusion of the Womens World Cup on Sunday suggests it is time to ask Infantino how that ones working out for him.
So much of the previous months tournament had felt exuberantly political, from the delicious insolence of Megan Rapinoe in pre-emptively declining any invitation to Trumps White House, to the boos and chants of equal pay that greeted Infantinos own arrival on the pitch after the final, right down to the US players running over to the stands to kiss their wives and girlfriends in the hour of maximum-ratings triumph. I know this is a moment at which we have to talk about the potential to grow the game. So let me say that the last of those spectacles in particular served as a reminder of how far the mens game has to grow in this department. Lets hope it manages to ease itself into the late 20th century at some point over the next decade, so that maybe by the year 2086 or something we might one day even see a gay male player feel remotely able to do the same.
While were at it, another notable feature of the tournament is the support that the highest-profile nonconformity has had from the coaches. Asked about what some have characterised as Rapinoes outspokenness, the USA manager Jill Ellis was only positive. Megan was built for this, built for these moments, built to be a spokesperson, she said. Shes eloquent. She speaks well and from the heart. I never had any worries about Megan speaking out. The bigger the spotlight the more she shines. Again, its difficult to imagine many coaches in the mens game doing quite the same, with the more likely scenario being a stern word in the ear to the insurrectionist and an evidence-free warning that this sort of thing ends up being destabilising for the team.
All in all, there was much to enjoy about a tournament that was supposedly Fifas somehow slipping from the governing bodys control. Not least the knowledge that there was very little Infantino could do about the various rebellions at any point, other than don his shit-eating grin and make the best of it. One of the most hilarious things about watching the general disrespect and frustration with Fifa among the teams play out has been the knowledge that Fifa would have to bite its tongue on it all, for fear of looking what it is: commercially inept and institutionally sexist.
We knew it was just this long before the World Cup kicked off and Infantino was widely warned by many in the womens game how Fifas commitment to the womens game would look once the spotlight was on it. Last October I wrote here about the inherent disrespect in scheduling the Womens World Cup final not just on the same day as the Copa Amrica final and the Concacaf Gold Cup finals this has never been done before but as the earlier match, and therefore by extension the undercard to both. If thats where you put your biggest game in the four-year cycle, what do you expect? As predicted, that ended up looking even worse in the event just another one of their own decisions on which Fifa was revealed as being on the back foot about.
From pre-tournament reports that there was significantly more advertising in Paris for the French Open than anything put up by Fifa, to Rapinoes post-final suggestion that a little public shame never hurt anybody, this was a tournament that often felt as if it was happening despite Fifa and not because of it. Playing catch-up at your own event is an odd choice but I guess thats Fifa politics for you.
Sod all use to Australia
At last, an answer to the question: what is more amusing than an Australia side who believe that at some hugely important cultural level, sledging is literally an art form?
It is what we might refer to as Wellness Australia, a term I am applying after learning that Australias cricket team walked barefoot round Edgbaston in order to capture positive energy coming out of the earth before Thursdays World Cup semi-final against England. Following the shoeless and sockless perambulation, the side formed a circle and told sad stories of the death of kings. Im sorry: thats my mistake. They told uplifting stories of their lives in cricket. According to advocates, who presumably include Australia coach Justin Langer, this practice is called earthing or barefoot healing, and it can reduce stress, inflammation and sleeplessness. It is also hoped to reduce not having won at Edgbaston in any format since 2001. Or as batsman Peter Handscomb put it: It was nice. You get a feel of the grass on your feet, a bit of grounding, the positive and negative energy flowing through and coming out of the earth.
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