One of the phrases that I will try my best not to overuse over the next months is “Scotland must take advantage of the Euros.”
If you’ve not heard, Scotland has qualified for their first major tournament and their preparations begin on Thursday against the hosts the Netherlands.
But it is not something that has been shouted from the rooftops, partly because of a required culture change that is needed in Scotland. If you looked at the Scottish Parliament – of the five political parties represented in Holyrood, three leaders are women and three identify as LGBT. That equality is not represented in sport.
There is an interesting parallel in Scotland, England and pretty much every single country in the world. With the male national team beginning their qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup, the media and journalists are already writing the epitaphs for Gordan Strachan’s reign after a 3-0 defeat to Slovakia.
So, think for a second. If the Scotland Women’s National Team had failed to qualify for the 2017 Euros – would there be an outcry? No. And this is the culture change that must happen.
Manchester City, Chelsea, Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen, Arsenal – all huge names in football. Where do their boards get judged? The men’s team. It is like the women’s sides are being judged like an Under-21 side. Nice when they have success but not critical.
The SFA has to be judged on women’s football and men’s football with an identical weight of critique. That is not to say that the aims should be identical. In the most idealistic world, that would be ludicrous because different sides will be in different phases. And anyway – I would argue that the women’s team is actually better than the men’s.
Look at the qualifying groups Scotland had for the 2016 Men’s Euros and the 2017 Euros. Whilst in the men’s group, they had Germany and Poland, Scotland still had a group they could/should have qualified from. Same with the women’s. Iceland was a better side than their rankings suggested, but Scotland should and did qualify.
I’ve seen people say “Scotland had an easy group” because they thrashed sides like Macedonia. Okay, but the men’s side lost to Georgia, a side they should beat.
I think the reason why we are in this situation is because Women’s Football is still under-represented. Massively so in Scotland. There are few of us covering the game over the season.
This is why the BBC is so critical over the next months.
BBC Alba, the Gaelic channel, do a superb job in covering Scottish Women’s Football. They’ve covered Scotland internationals and Glasgow City & Hibernian Champions League games. They are also covering the SSE Scottish Cup Final in November.
BUT. It is a channel that lots of people skip. BBC One and BBC Two are far more likely to have higher viewing figures from viewers who are saying ‘I wonder what is on?’. There is an argument that we now watch sport through our phones, tablets and laptops – but TVs still remain a vital part of the viewing experience and one that can’t be ignored.
BBC Scotland needs to have regular content on Women’s Football over the next year, because if they don’t, who will? ITV, Channel Four, Sky all have to worry about advertising and TV viewing figures. The BBC is there to represent our culture, all walks of life. I am someone who thinks the BBC makes our country better, I mean, it has Doctor Who! However, it still has an issue about Scottish content, and here is a perfect opportunity for it to improve.
Some might be saying – what about STV? Yes, but STV’s popularity comes nowhere close to the BBC, especially on the web.
Look at what they’ve done for women’s sport recently. You have live radio commentary of Women’s Football and Women’s Cricket, you have media columns with Eni Aluko and Heather Knight. If Scottish Women’s Football takes the opportunity to introduce itself to a new audience then hopefully other broadcasters will follow.
Of course, it’s going to take a lot more of a culture change for the SFA to be judged equally on women’s and men’s football. But better media coverage will be a start.