BUENOS AIRES – Covering the FIFA Women's World Cup, which kicks off this Sunday with a game between favorites Germany and Canada in Berlin, is a journalist's dream. The story angles off the pitch hang like low-lying fruit, mostly on the rampant sexism that still persists in women's soccer. Writers focus on the German team's recent Playboy photo shoot , or dismissive reader comments on an ESPN piece , or Iranian women banned from competition because FIFA won't let them play with headscarves, or any single instance of Sepp Blatter's sexist remarks over the last few years, including advice about how women should wear "tighter" clothes to increase attendances at games.
We hear about how the state of the women's game is "downright depressing," that the tournament build-up is "apathetic" in host nation Germany. And of course, no article on the WWC would be complete without a reminder of the dire financial straits of the Women's Professional Soccer league in the US. The Guardian's Anna Clark recently wrote of the tournament,
From the headlines (or dearth of them), you'd think there was no joy in the beautiful game if it happens to be women on the field. Which is a shame. Also, it's wrong. You want to know why athletes play hard, even in desperate and dangerous circumstances, even when they're hardly rewarded with prestige and money like men are? It's for the joy. Love of the game.
She's right. Buried at the bottom of this "doom and gloom" is this bit of news: the opening game between Germany and Canada is sold out in a stadium with 73,000 seats. That would make the match one of the best attended in WWC history. Looks like that "love of the game" may not be so hard to conjure up in fans after all.
That's just one untold story about the upcoming tournament. While it's often repeated -- at least in mainstream print publications -- that "no-one cares" about the Women's World Cup, the picture is a little different on-line.
Over the last decade or so, more and more hardcore soccer fans, particularly those in the United States and Canada (where coverage of the game in mainstream media is sparse to say the least), have come to rely on specialty sites and blogs for football news and information. The appetite for any and all football coverage, whether on the Copa America or Russian Premier League transfer rumours, is seemingly endless, and many independent blogs and start-up news sites have appeared to fill the void.
Ten or 15 years ago, you'd be hard pressed to see any coverage of women's soccer in print. Now, as online soccer coverage continues to expand, so does women's soccer, particularly in North America. Writers like Jenna Pel, Jeff Kassouff, and FOX Soccer's own Richard Farley, blogs like Jennifer Doyle's excellent "From a Left Wing," or Matt Rolf's "Fake Sigi" blog offer intelligent, up-to-date discourse on the state of the women's game.
Yet these aren't "niche" writers known only to a particular audience. Through links and social media sites like Twitter, journalists and hardcore fans not normally aware of goings-on in women's soccer have come in direct or indirect contact with these writers and blogs through a kind of Internet osmosis.
This has also had a slow, knock-on effect on other, more mainstream football sites, which have gradually started to offer more and more women's soccer news. There is now arguably more coverage available on the women's game to the average reader than at any previous moment in its history.
In my country, Canada, where the women's national team enjoys significantly more success on the pitch than the men's, coverage of women's soccer is now near ubiquitous. The name Carolina Morace -- the head coach of the Canadian women's national team -- is well-known to every major Canadian soccer writer, particularly after the Canadian Soccer Association's long battle to keep her in the set-up after a public spat earlier this year.
Meanwhile, players like Christine Sinclair and Kaylyn Kyle are the subject of online profiles and interviews. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the purveyor of Hockey Night in Canada and Don Cherry, is offering marquee coverage for the event. And some mainstream national papers like the Globe and Mail have recently opened up significant column space for discussion of women's football. The announcement that Canada would host the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup received serious media attention here and is regarded as a major achievement for Canadian soccer. Yet the revolution wasn't televised; it arguably happened and is continuing to happen on-line.
This is not to say all is well in women's soccer coverage. The increasing number of articles on the sport still involve a lot of alarmist, "state of the union" type reporting. When it does focus on the game itself, it tends to stick to the national teams, rather than the professional side, either in Europe or the US. It's rare to find a piece that fits Anna Clarke's requirement -- something that focuses on the sport qua sport, rather than as a sexual politics barometer.
Even so, at least now we're aware of these issues. At least Sepp Blatter's sexist remarks will reach a global, online audience, able to post rebuttals in real-time. At least we can hold an open debate about headscarves in the game, or parse through WPS league attendances, or simply read match-reports and watch highlights of the WWC, whenever we want.
Yet hopefully this tournament will see more and more excellent writers start blogs or freelance pieces on women's football that go beyond titillation or controversy, and focus on the "love of the game." Hopefully we'll begin to read match reports on the women's game alongside the men's with nary a mention of politics, club finances and ticket sales. Realistically we're a long way off, but the online barriers are beginning to blur, even if only a little.
Richard Whittall writes on football from his home in Toronto, Canada. In addition to this site, he's a regular contributor the Score's Footy Blog , Canadian Soccer News , and Brian Phillip's unsurpassed Run of Play . His writing has appeared in Toronto Life and the Globe and Mail, and he was a contributor for Brooks Peck's Yahoo! blog Dirty Tackle for the 2010 World Cup.