Saturday, July 16, 2011

Go ladies, Go

If you are a sport's fan , you are somewhat spoilt for choice today. If you fancy sublime South American football, the Copa America is on in Argentina. The final day of the British Open golf, with all the hype surrounding the next Tiger Woods - Rory McIlroy may be your choice. Or the majestic Tour de France, the world's premier cycling event, thankfully free of any doping scandal so far. But my pick of the day is none of this.

You may be forgiven for not realising that the World Cup football final is on today. Yes, right. World Cup Football. Rub your eyes again. Yes. Its the Women's World Cup football final.

Before you groan and switch off, just consider the fact that the Women's World Cup has produced more drama, excitement, heartbreak, and joy than the boring Copa America going on at the same time featuring the likes of Lionel Messi. 

Women's football is something of an anachronism. If you have watched a women's game, it is played at roughly half the pace of men's football. In no other sport is the gap between men and women so obvious. Other sports try to make women wear short skirts to attract viewers (shame on you, badminton). Women in football wear the same awful shorts that the men wear. They aren't good looking - there are no Maria Sharapovas in footballs. So why should you get all jumped up about a sport where "there is nothing to see".

Here's why. The referee hardly blows her whistle in a women's football game. The game flows. There are no crunching fouls, no head butts, no cynical theatrical posturing. There is plenty of skill, even if the game is at half the pace. They play as a team - there are no huge heroes although Marta of Brazil has a cult status similar to her more illustrious male counterparts.  And therein lies the beauty of sport. Its not just the sheer standard or professionalism that matters. Its the joy and excitement it can bring, even if the standard is just club level.

The World Cup has had its many moments of drama. Germany was hoping to win for the third consecutive time and that too on home soil - but they were beaten in a gripping classic in extra time. Brazil, a perennial favourite was beaten on a penalty shootout in the semis in another nail biting encounter. And two wonderful teams have made it to the finals today. The United States, a powerhouse in the game, but not doing very well recently, made it against the odds with grit and determination. In a land where sport is at a sorry state with the lockouts of the NBA and the NFL, the ladies have brought great cheer. And what of the other finalist ? Nobody gave them a hope. After every game, they hold a banner "To our friends around the world, thank you for your support". Post the recent tragedies in their country, there was always going to be public support, but even after they dumped Germany in that historic game, they are being supported by Germans - such is their charm.

TV ratings are through the roof. Germans, the most  masculine of nations, and probably the only country where the natives call it the Fatherland instead of Motherland has embraced the World Cup totally. TV ratings in the US have zoomed with a public charmed by the story of ordinary athletes, not multimillionaires, achieving glory. But in the land of the rising sun, nobody even knew there was a tournament going on when it started. But, with each win, the momentum has snowballed. The vagaries of time zones means that the final starts at 3.45 AM Japanese time. You can bet there would be many up and cheering the Nadeshiko with bleary eyes.

Its Japan vs the United States tonight. Its Christie Rampone vs Homare Sawa. For once, I can't bear to see either team losing.