Summer 2012. A group of athletes from an area of sport previously only followed by die-hards and sporting hipsters burst into the nation’s consciousness with their greatest ever performance, win the love of us all, and set up a legacy of sport which will surely change the way we think about British sporting identity forever.
Summer 2015. A group of athletes from an area of sport previously only followed by die-hards and sporting hipsters burst into the nation’s consciousness with their greatest ever performance, win the love of us all, and set up a legacy of sport which will surely change the way we think about British sporting identity forever.
See what I did there? The parallels between the London 2012 Olympics fervour and the buzz surrounding women’s football in the light of England’s superb performance at the World Cup in Canada are spooky. With the Women’s FA Cup final taking place today at Wembley for the first time ever, crowds at WSL matches into the thousands for the first time ever, and even EA, a company with a PR reputation on par with Beelzebub, putting women’s football into FIFA 16, the game is riding the crest of a wave.
The thing with waves is that they crash down eventually. That is what has happened to the Olympic legacy within an Olympic cycle, and the FA must act now to make sure that women’s football is not completely in the shadows again by the time France 2019 rolls around.
You need only see what has happened to the main Olympic Park to see things haven’t quite worked out as Lord Coe and co. would have hoped. The stadium, instead of being a publicly owned arena for the world’s best athletics stars who lit it up for a single, dream-like week, is now home to a mediocre Premier League football team, with a lot of the bill still put to the British taxpayer, from whom the scales have fallen from their eyes with a resounding clang.
Participation in Olympic sports has barely risen in three years, and perhaps the greatest ignominy was announced this week, that the sculpture outside the stadium, built as a permanent, unique reminder of the purity and spirit of the games, is going to become a slide. A helter skelter. An attraction you would see at a very sub-par theme park. Which in some way, the Olympic Park now is.
The FA can’t let the legacy of the Lionesses be tarnished in a similar way. An extra £3.7million of Sport England money has been invested in the game this summer to get an extra 20,000 girls into the game, but this is a special bonus. It should be the norm. Money may be very tight for these organisations lately, but to sacrifice the influence of the second best ever finish at a major tournament by a senior England team to save a few pennies would be painful – painfully English, and painfully predictable.
As a final note, the winner of the men’s FA Cup earns £1.8m. The women’s winner earns £5,000. If that stat is an equal number by 2019, that will be a legacy.
by Matthew Smith