In November 2013 the University of Bristol, UK, hosted an event titled ‘How to watch the World Cup’ to explore the forthcoming FIFA Men’s World Cup to be held in Brazil, and to expose the social, economic and cultural lens that would shape the ways that global audiences viewed and experienced the competition. This was part of a year-long series of events organised by the Sport + Translation research group during the year, which investigated the construction of national and gendered identities through sports over history. Interpreters, cultural critics, translators, sociologists and historians revealed the many ways in which spectators, audiences and societies have been excited and manipulated, to the extent that our final conference, in May 2014, triggered debate over whether we should watch the tournament at all. In the end, of course, we watched all the matches and were swept up in the political, social, economic and footballing hypothesising and social media hyperbole of those four weeks. In 2015 we find ourselves asking the question How to watch the World Cup? for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, to be held in Canada starting on 6 June.
Often the response has been not How but Why watch the Women’s World Cup? Commentators who just twelve months ago were suggesting that people take a month off work to indulge themselves in the frenzy of multicultural sporting celebration are now hazily ignoring the summer’s football, dwelling instead on non-stories of possible managerial movements and transfers. Is the sexism in contemporary global football cultures the simple explanation for this massive exercise in hypocrisy and indifference? Are there any justifications for believing that this year’s tournament might be less entertaining than last year’s? Or are there more deep-rooted historical and cultural explanations?
There’s an obvious intersection here with the research agenda of the Women, Work and Value network. As we have explored the different ways in which men’s and women’s work has been valued, some questions have recurred time and again, which seem just as pertinent to the lives and careers of professional sportswomen: why are women paid less than men for the same work? What makes it difficult for women to break into typically male professions? Why does popular culture fall back on gender stereotypes when it depicts women’s work?
To begin to answer these questions we have asked leading scholars for their views in the run-up to the Women’s World Cup, which we will publish here and at the Sport + Translation blog over the next two weeks. Then, on 11 June between 8pm and 9pm we’ll host a Twitter chat using the hashtag #WatchWWC to debate the issues and work out How to Watch the Women’s World Cup.
Josie McLellan @josiemclellan, Principal Investigator of the Women, Work, Value research project, and Reader in Modern European History, University of Bristol. http://www.bris.ac.uk/arts/research/women-work/.