The persistence and now rapid growth of women's football

The persistence and now rapid growth of women’s football

May 22, 2020

The persistence and now rapid growth of women’s football: Governments, however, are not the only ones to have worked out the connection between football and power in the last twenty years. The game’s capacity to lay bare the sinews of power, to serve as a goad to critical thinking, and as a reservoir of alternative and communitarian values, has proved strong enough that the new colonization of the game by commercial and political forces has created a small backlash: the eruption of a volcanic but fragile archipelago of resistance.

The persistence and now rapid growth of women’s football

The persistence and now rapid growth of women's football

The most significant of all has been the persistence and now rapid growth of women’s football, as a grassroots mania, as a professional sport and increasingly as a national and global spectacle. After more than a century of almost unchallenged male domination of the game, on and off the pitch, and the saturation of its collective imagery and sense of self with masculinity, every women’s game, every woman in the men’s game, is an act of resistance, a reminder that another world is possible and necessary.

Resistance to power takes many forms, but listen hard and you can hear it. All over the world, crowd chants and collective performances have been challenging malign owners, intrusive policing and shameless profiteering. Self-serving TV networks and corrupt administrators have increasingly found themselves the subject of public ire in the stadium and beyond.

More recently, organized groups and campaigns in football have multiplied. There are fan groups and football clubs that challenge sexism, violence, racism and homophobia, from the women of the Iranian diaspora demanding their sisters be allowed to attend football at home, to the brave anti-fascist startup clubs of Eastern Europe. There are tournaments that seek to engage the marginalized and the dispossessed, ranging from the Homeless and Anti-Racist World Cups to refugee and amputee leagues.

There are heralds of alternative politics like the teams of the Zapatistas of Southern Mexico, or Non-UFC, the club of the Vietnamese dissidents of Hanoi. The extent to which these new social actors have been able to challenge and mitigate the logics of their economic and political adversaries remains limited, yet their potential remains largely untapped. Progressive ideologies, however, have no monopoly on dissent.

The new football has also driven the steady drift of Italian ultras towards fascism, the vast outbreak of neo-Nazi, white supremacist and ultra-nationalist football firms in Eastern Europe, and the mutation of Latin America’s barras bravas into organized criminal operations.