Rather than the disaster many anticipated, the men’s FIFA World Cup in Russia has actually been one of the most energising, uplifting learning experiences this nation has undergone in recent memory.
As fans we have learned so many things – that England actually have a good crop of players; that Russia is not all bad (in fact, a lot of it seems pretty good) and that waistcoats are cool.
However, somewhat less positively, it also appears that the great game still has a sexism problem amongst fans in this country as highlighted by reactions to the presence of Alex Scott, Eni Aluko and Vicki Sparks on our screens and in our ears.
Before we go into detail, let’s be clear on one thing: this is a minority we’re talking about. Judging by the thousands of posts on social media, there was plenty of praise thrown their way throughout the tournament.
But unfortunately there was also a decent proportion of comments that weren’t so pleasant and, in some cases, nothing short of outrageous and neanderthalic. And that wasn’t just by the Twitter trolls either – in Aluko’s case she was subjected to an embarrassing display of sexism by Patrice Evra in front of millions of watching fans.
And while I could eulogise their coverage of the world’s biggest sporting tournament for the rest of the blog, it’s not actually this that’s impressed me the most.
Of course they have all been absolutely fantastic, but really that was only to be expected. There are reasons Sparks was chosen to be the first woman to live commentate on a men’s World Cup game, that Aluko has now covered three major tournaments despite still being a player and that Scott is already a very regular presence across all formats of the BBC.
Those reasons are passion, insight, knowledge and – above all – engaging personalities.
But what really impressed me was the maturity and grace with which they dealt with such a volatile situation that unfurled before them.
How many of us would have bitten the bullet and reacted to some of the awful, unfair comments written and said? I know I would have been sorely tempted and there are many that do often – just look at Gary Lineker and Piers Morgan!
What particularly wound me up were the numerous suggestions that Scott and Aluko have no place being pundits on men’s football because they played the women’s version.
Sorry, what?! Here we have two of England’s greatest players of the modern generation with caps, trophies and goals galore between them. They finished third at a World Cup. If they’re not qualified to give insight then frankly no-one is.
It’s astounding to think that there are people out there who genuinely think that men’s and women’s football are two completely different sports. Yes ok there are some differences but seriously?
While each would have been more than justified in reacting, they rose above the situation and just carried on doing what they do best.
No more evident was this than when Aluko completely brushed off Evra’s ridiculous comments and carried on with her informative and insightful analysis of the Costa Ricans.
Scott has also showed remarkable restraint on social media, where she is perhaps the most active of the three. There has not been a single character of negativity in any of her tweets and she portrays having the time of her life, something which comes across even more when she appears on TV.
There were a couple of references to the debate surrounding her appearances but even then she managed to turn them into a positive. This included retweeting a post from Jason Manford that said ‘She’s not just a pundit. She is inspiring and opening up the game to a host of people who never thought this game was for them.’
She’s not just a pundit. She is inspiring and opening up the game to a host of people who never thought this game was for them
— Jason Manford (@JasonManford) June 23, 2018
These words could not be more true. In the space of a month Scott, Aluko and Sparks have shown that female football pundits and commentators are just as good – if not better – than their male counterparts.
Of course they’re not the first – Gabby Logan, Jacqui Oatley, Sue Smith and Rachel Brown-Finnis are just a few who have been fantastic in recent years – but what they have done is taken the world’s biggest stage by storm and proved so many people wrong.
This certainly feels like a watershed moment in terms of having women broadcasting and covering the world’s most popular game alongside men and I would not be surprised if this is the tournament referenced as a game changer for years to come. And that is all down to Scott, Aluko and Sparks.