And The Winner Is…

Another day, another WoSo award. Today’s reveal was the CONCACAF Awards 2016. Of course some (most) of the awards were just a popularity vote. That’s not the fault of the voters, that’s the fault of the people running the vote. This is not just confined to CONCACAF, the biggest award in women’s football is given by FIFA, and it’s no mistake it’s also the biggest popularity award.

This isn’t a ‘sour grapes’ article because my choices didn’t win, this is an ‘I’m pissed’ article because the women’s game, the players, and the fans deserve better.

I won’t go into all the minute details about how players are chosen to be in a particular list for each award, they are all basically the same – a technical committee ( I use the term very loosely) chooses a long list of who they think (OK, a long list of names they pull out of a hat) had an OK year in whatever category the list is for – then it’s narrowed down in a few different ways to a shortlist of 3 or 5 or 27 (maybe not 27, but why not, the outcome will be the same) – then the “real” voting gets underway. In some permutation that adds up to 100%, the vote is given to team coaches and/or captains, the media, and the fans. Doesn’t sound too bad so far, right? Wrong. This is where it really goes off the track. In the case of CONCACAF while the media and coaches/captains get one vote apiece, the fans get unlimited (may be limited by the amount of hours in a day and the stamina of your fingers) votes. Instant recipe for a popularity vote.  In the case of FIFA the process goes off the rails almost immediately, never mind the voting process. FIFA’s “technical committee” seldom gets the right players on the long list and therefor the right players seldom make it onto the shortlist. From there you go to the voting where many (if not most) of the voters only really know about a few of the more prominent names on the list . This is not confined to fans, this also includes the media and the coaches/captains. This brings us to the real reasons WoSo awards don’t reflect and reward the outstanding players in the game – the lack of exposure for much of the WoSo world game and the lack of respect.

It doesn’t matter if it’s one small confederation or all the confederations – if voters aren’t exposed to the players nominated how can they ever choose the ones truly deserving to be singled out with an award? You might argue that it’s hard to get WoSo on TV and you wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s not hard to get highlight reels on individual players. In today’s game most teams compile some type of video. Some leagues require it, some just do it for their own purposes, some players keep their own. We are in a digital age where anyone with a computer/phone to cast a vote could conceivably view a video. I don’t even entertain the production quality argument, how many of us have sat through a grainy phone video to see a favorite player or play? And if you’re shaking your head from side-to-side, get down – you could fall and hurt yourself from that high up. By exposing the technical committee, the media, the coaches/captain, and yes, the fans to all the players nominated at their level of voting would go a long way to solving the exposure problem. Until all WoSo is accessible, like 99% of BroSo is now, the award givers will have to work just a little bit harder here. Which brings us to lack of respect.

You might say that confederations and FIFA are working on the respect aspect, but are they working as hard as they could? Let me answer that for you, No. It would take very little work to treat the award process with the respect it deserves. In the case of CONCACAF all it would have taken was one vote per fan, at least FIFA got that part right. CONCACAF presented video clips of each nominee, which is what I would like to see, but then they opened the voting to allow fans to vote as many times as they possibly could for a favorite player. Even though the total fan vote only carried a third of the total voting, fans could still have swayed the results by voting non-stop for a fave over a possibly more deserving player based on merit not popularity. FIFA, by contrast, did only allow for one vote per fan, but was very lacking in the education of their electorate. You only need to look at who voted for whom to see that in many instances (as it has been since inception) name recognition was how most coaches/captains voted. It’s hard for all the member nations to keep tabs on all the other member nation teams and stand-out players. This is where FIFA needs to step up its game and show the nominees (and the voting nations) the respect they deserve. Awards at the confederation level and certainly at the FIFA level should truly reflect the quality and talent WoSo has to offer. They do not and it lies squarely at the feet of those organizations to do better.

I’m seldom at a loss on how to “fix” things, so here goes.

  1. Vet the “technical committees” to make sure they are the most knowledgeable about the women’s game within the given framework.
  2. Provide all electors with ample footage of the selected shortlist players so that they can cast an informed vote.
  3. Establish well-articulated, merit-based criteria for each award.
  4. Promote the vote all year, giving it gravitas as a true award and not a popularity or name recognition contest.
  5. Emphasize the importance of recognizing the most qualified to meet the award criteria.
  6. Limit voting to one vote per fan.

BroSo seldom has these issues with awards and in part it’s due to the wide exposure players get. WoSo isn’t there yet so we have to make sure that confederations and FIFA do what’s needed to make these awards meaningful and respected. The last thing we want to do is undermine the women’s game and the accomplishments of its greatest players by giving out awards that even the recipients know are often misguided.

If what fans want is a popularity contest give them one, just don’t disrespect the players by representing it as reflecting on their ability on the pitch in a given year.

If you have any ideas on how to make awards better, let me hear them in the comments.

 

 

I’m Coming Out!

Yes, it’s true. I’m coming out, but not as gay. Been there, done that, even got the t-shirt from San Francisco.

I’m coming out in support of all the women athletes who have had the courage to publicly come out during their playing careers. We’re all aware of how hard it is to make a living playing sports as a female, and these women put everything on the line to be true to who they are. They risked the loss of what they had dreamed of and worked for all their lives. They became targets of ridicule and adoration in equal measure. I’m sure they are all aware of the ridicule, but to this day I’m not sure they’re aware of all the girls and women they gave hope to, and all who adored them for it.

I was one of those girls. I was in high school in the early to mid 70’s and women’s lib and feminism was everywhere. And while I latched on to the parts of those movements that spoke to me, something was missing. None of these people were like me, a sports loving, gay girl. I looked at all of the spokespersons for these rallying points and none of them were me. It would be a while until someone actually said the words, but I projected my gayness onto every strong, assertive woman in sport I could follow, but something was missing. I didn’t see myself in these strong accomplished female athletes because they had no girlfriends, or relationships. You never saw their houses or where they hung out. They never went to functions with a woman. They never spoke of anything but their sport in the media. No one ever asked them what their girlfriend thought of the constant travel, the swarms of fans or who took care of their pets when they were on the road.

And then someone came out, publicly, unashamedly, proudly. And that day my life and the life of thousands of girls and women changed. That day the athlete’s life changed, forever. No one really knows how much that public statement cost them, in lost earnings and opportunities, but I guarantee you that they gained something more valuable that day.

And I gained something as well. I gained a voice, a voice that looked like me and acted like me and was me.

So to all those who have come before and found the courage to come out, thank you.

Personally, I think it’s appalling that a male athlete is seen as more important when they come out. Our society still has so far to go when it comes to the issues surrounding gender. The media may not recognize all the women that got there first, but I do, and I appreciate each and every one of you.