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14th Jun 2019

Criticism of USWNT celebrations against Thailand are sexist and miss the point of football

Wayne Farry

Scoring as many goals as possible is the aim, until it’s not

When you step onto a football pitch, regardless of the level you are playing at, you go out there with the sole aim of scoring more goals than the opposition. You go out there with the aim of scoring as many goals as possible.

You are taught this from a young age. Admittedly, it doesn’t often happen – matches are often close – but most of us who have played football in our youth will remember either being on the winning or receiving end of a massive 20+ goal victory.

Male footballers are praised for their ruthless efficiency on the pitch. They receive plaudits for not allowing their intensity to reduce even when their opponents are on their knees. It’s the sign of champions. It’s the sign of winners.

Real Madrid, in the years preceding the 2018/19 season, had won three consecutive Champions League titles; something which seemed impossible just a few years ago in a competition which, prior to the 2016/17 season, had never been won by the same side in consecutive seasons.

But Madrid did this and were rightfully celebrated as one of the strongest sides in club football history.

There was praise too for Germany during the 2014 World Cup when they obliterated the fancied Brazil in their own backyard. The Germans beat the hosts 7-1, a shocking result, but one which – pundits and viewers agreed – was confirmation of the eventual world champions excellence, rather than a stick with which to beat them.

This past week, however, when the United States Women’s National Team eviscerated Thailand in their opening World Cup game in Reims, their 13-0 scoreline was met with scorn.

The best team in women’s football – playing without any limitations and with no consideration for their opponents – unleashed on their opponents, and showed the world that they are ruthless and every bit as good as people had feared.

Alex Morgan, their star player, scored five goals alone. A number of other players, including Rose Lavelle (who got two) scored their first ever goals in a World Cup finals.

In one 90 minute period they scored more goals than their male counterparts have scored in all of their World Cup appearances combined.

They showed no mercy, and would have expected to be praised for their attitude.

If this is what the world of sport supposedly wants from its teams, then why was this victory greeted the way it was?

Why were the USWNT labeled as “insecure” for the manner of their celebrations in breaking the record for a scoreline in a World Cup match – any World Cup match?

Their celebrations were referred to as “embarrassing” on social media, and of lacking class. It was odd.

It was odd, until you realise that most of the critiques, most of the shady comments, were just a roundabout way of accusing this team of being – at the heart of proceedings – unladylike. That is what it boils down to.

The world loves to pretend that they want women to be free, to be able to do what they want, but at every turn the world continues to police the behaviour of women, whether they be single women, women working and raising a family or women performing at the pinnacle of their sport.

Be confident, but not too confident. Love who you want, but not that much, and not in our faces for fuck’s sake. Win football matches, but do it with class and grace, and for the love of God don’t celebrate too wildly.

After the match, their coach Jill Ellis questioned whether the same complaints would be made if the US men’s national team were to suddenly get good and win a World Cup game by such a margin.

“Part of me is sitting here wondering, if this is 10-0 in a men’s World Cup, are we getting the same questions?” she asked.

This same question was posited by USWNT legend Abby Wombach: “This is your dream of playing and then scoring in a World Cup. Celebrate. Would you tell a men’s team to not score or celebrate?”

This is a World Cup. It is the biggest stage in world football. Goals in a World Cup should always be celebrated, be they the first, second or the 13th – be they against Brazil, Germany or Thailand.

One of the most common critiques of the behaviour of the USWNT was that they had shown disrespect to their opponents, who were clearly not good enough to compete with them and, some suggested, weren’t good enough to even be in the competition.

But the Thai team qualified for the competition, and thus deserve to be there. Any other suggestion, and any suggestion that the USWNT should have gone easier on them is patronising in the extreme.

They were clearly not good enough, but the task of improving professional football in Thailand is the sole responsibility of the Thai FA, not the USWNT.

The USWNT’s job is to win football matches, whoever they’re playing against. They did that with gusto this week.

They showed no mercy and celebrated like the winners they are. They, in turn, should be celebrated for that, not vilified.