Toby Young Toby Young

Am I allowed to make fun of women’s football? 

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I’m loath to write about the current Fifa World Cup because criticising women’s football is textbook ‘misogyny’ – at least, that’s what Sadiq Khan thinks. The centrepiece of his recent ‘Have a word’ campaign is a video of young men discussing the women’s Euros, with viewers encouraged to press a button saying ‘Maaate’ when a line is crossed. The idea is to nip such behaviour in the bud before it escalates into violence. One particularly noxious youth describes the Euros as a ‘joke’, clearly marking him out as a potential rapist.

She made a complete horlicks of her spot-kick, firing the ball over the crossbar

But is that really evidence of ‘misogyny’? The exit of the US Women’s National Team from the tournament last Sunday after losing a penalty shoot-out was, dare I say it, a bit of a joke. Megan Rapinoe, the 38-year-old forward, made a complete horlicks of her spot-kick, sending Sweden through to the last 16. She didn’t just miss, she fired the ball over the crossbar and into the seats behind the goal. And before you accuse me of using ‘problematic’ language, Rapinoe chose the same word herself. ‘That’s like a sick, sick joke,’ she said afterwards. ‘I never hit it over.’

It goes without saying that male footballers are just as capable of losing their nerve in penalty shoot-outs, particularly if they play for England. I was at Wembley for the Euro finals when Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all missed from the spot. But it was acutely embarrassing for the blue-haired Rapinoe because she, more than any other player, has turned the US women’s team into a symbol of gender equality. They filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation in 2019 when she was captain, alleging discrimination because they weren’t paid the same as the men.

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