Team GB women make case for spotlight

As a sort of footnote to the men’s experiment on the Olympic stage during the 2012 games, the female equivalent have had to settle for the typical marginalising it usually faces when competing for headlines in the default-male orientated sport of football. Hope Powell’s squad qualified at the top of group E having conceded 0 goals and winning all three matches to set up a quarter-final date with Canada.

Yet, it comes with a degree of sadness that while the males were attributed with a significant amount of column inches as the debate rages over whether a mixed team of Welsh and English representatives should join together in the singing of the national anthem, it is just the Daily Mail from the UK’s mainstream media that have handed prime back-page coverage to the promising send off to the group-stages for Powell’s girls.

They wrapped things up in group E by beating Brazil, becoming only the second national side from any home nation to beat the South American country in a competitive fixture across both genders, in a result that will put the women on a crest of a wave as they approach the knockout stages and the ever-growing prospect of a medal. There seems to be a great injustice that the girls’ superb achievement will be demoted to the ignominy of the sport’s supplements in the national papers in what is the pinnacle of their sport, while the men’s side of Team GB enjoy the main spotlight for what is a curious foray into an alien competition.

It is not just with results however that the females are pushing back stigma-inducing boundaries about the women’s game in the UK, for the popularity of the game is growing in partnership with success. Buoyed by the 1-0 win over New Zealand and an impressive 3-0 defeat of Cameroon that saw last-eight qualification with a game to spare, Tuesday’s unexpected win over 5thin the World Brazil was watched in person by 70,000 fans including FIFA president Sepp Blatter in what was a British record-breaking number for a women’s match in Britain. Narrowly missing the Olympic record of 76,000 set in Atlanta of 1996, that such a massive number should come in an Olympiad marred by attendance problems is a superb effort regardless of the current context of the female game.

In tandem with the construction of the Women’s Super League in England, women’s football has seen participation numbers swell to what the FA believe to be 1.38 million back home, and now there is a clear feeling, although coach Hope Powell has been quick to urge caution as her team approach Friday’s date with Canada, that this brave Olympic journey that has attracted David Beckham and the Royal family to attendance over the group stages will boost numbers further as the female game attempts to step out of the dominant shadow of its male counterpart.

Of course, there have been many other historic stories coming out of these games, Michael Phelps created his own legacy in the pool while brave Equestrian and Gymnastic efforts will have attracted a lot of deserved coverage, but with a medal looming ever-brighter on the horizon for Powell’s ladies it would be a crying shame if their story was to be ignored in favour of, for instance, Andy Carroll’s transfer wrangling with Liverpool as in the Daily Mirror the morning after such a huge result.

The sensible reservation of Powell will be happy at the reserved degree of coverage afforded them as they approach Canada, but if they were to continue with the same type of performances that have seen a clean record in group qualification, record-breaking attendances and fabled wins over Brazil, then they may attract a clamour far in excess of anything a female football team representing Britain could have ever have expected.