The FIFA Best Awards vote is not fair and will not be (for now): A voter explains
I am pretty sure that the finalists for the FIFA Best Female Player of the Year awards created outrage among you. Even the Top 10 was not really great.
I was as flabbergasted as you were when I saw Deyna Castellanos (a great prospect by the way) there, instead of Sam Kerr and Pernille Harder.
But as a voter of these awards for the last five years, as a sport sociology lecturer with a PhD degree in sport and social issues, and a women’s football commentator in a country with hardly any interest in the game, I am not really surprised. Let me explain.
There are two major problems, regarding the FIFA Awards. The first one is easy to fix. The fans’ vote (which has 25% impact to the total vote) is basically a popularity contest. I am damn sure Venezuelans all over the world voted with pride for their upcoming sport hero, and many other people voted for her after having seen her YouTube videos. That is how Internet works. Even a player with the same caliber as Pernille Harder or Lieke Martins will not stand a chance against Marta even after twenty years after she retires. Because she has trickshot videos everywhere. They do not, they are just amazing players.
The solution is to create a Fan’s Favorite Award and not to fix fans’ votes with the expert votes.
The second problem is very complicated and it will take decades to fix. Women’s football, like many other women’s sports and some men’s sports, is not globally spread. It is a fast-growing sport in some parts of the world, in other parts it is virtually unknown. Even in Europe, if you take Russia of the EURO 2017, it is a complete Western European affair. South American teams go off the FIFA rankings because they do not play any games for months. In Africa, the situation is also dire. Same thing goes for many parts of Asia.
For the FIFA awards; media representatives, coaches and team captains from every FIFA member vote, regardless how much they are invested in women’s football. It would be utterly naive to claim that it is an expert vote, even an informed vote. Most readers of this website has more knowledge on women’s football than dozens of national team coaches. But coaches’ vote count, not yours. And they vote quite randomly, based on some videos they see etc.
I am from Turkey, it is a country where women’s football lives and dies with the Eurosport coverage. I do not want to disrespect Eurosport viewers who have been increasingly paying attention to the women’s game, by saying there’s no interest. Also, I cannot disrespect many female coaches diligently working to take part in Turkish football. But Turkish Football Federation is a man cave. Women’s football does not figure in their agenda. They simply do not care. The national team coach position is a revolving door of ex-footballers (male), junior level coaches (also mostly male), and some well-intentioned educators. I stopped paying attention to even who the national team coach is nowadays.
It is not a Turkey-specific case. I am sure Turkey is far from being the worst case. There are dozens of countries in worse conditions. Their votes are equal to the votes cast by the American, English, German coaches, media representatives etc.
Obviously, it is a universal vote and it has to stay as such. And the FIFA awards, it is the consequence of a problem, not the problem itself. Voting will be fair when the global football scene is fair to the women’s game and pays attention. Ironically, Deyna Castellanos being a finalist may be good for resolving this problem, if it will lead to creating some interest in South America where conditions for women’s football is plain awful. I am sure that a Turkish talent making some noise would open some eyes, for example.
Spreading the women’s game globally is not entirely a football issue. It is a social issue. There is a sociopolitical reason why women’s football is confined to the northwestern corner of the globe. And there is a sociopolitical reason why women’s football has blossomed in these countries since the 1970s, after five decades of ban. The history of women’s football cannot be written without the history of women’s rights. Without the feminist movements in Europe, without Patsy Mink who became the first Asian-American congresswoman to push for Title IX, there would not be the women’s football we know. Women’s football is a part of women’s equal rights movement. It is about the right to play, it is about being equals with male sportspeople, and men in general. Women’s football benefits from and contributes to women’s liberation.
So don’t ask why the FIFA Awards aren’t fair. Ask why the world is not fair to women. You will see the Awards will fix itself automagically.
Sport sociology lecturer with a PhD degree in sport and social issues, and a women’s football commentator in Turkey.