Women's Football

Women's football provides untimely reminder of ugly side with 'Dubai-gate'

Jan 9, 2021, 6:15 PM GMT
Manchester United Women v Manchester City Women - Barclays FA Women's Super League
The WSL has not handled Dubai gate well | Visionhaus/Getty Images
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Women's football's generally quite nice.

That's not meant in a patronising way - but in a world where the men's game has steadily drifted into a cacophony of madness with the unattainable wealth of clubs, sky-high wage packets and eye watering TV deals, the women's game can sometimes be a nice, grounded, soothing antidote.

The players tend to come across as pretty ordinary and relatable, diving and cheating are rarely talking points and homophobia isn't often an issue.

Arsenal Women v Manchester City Women: WSL
Likability has been a pull for the women's game | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

In the last 18 months, the most contentious incident to occur at the very top of the women's game, the incident that has triggered real, genuine fan anger was the hugely controversial issue of celebrations. How dare the USA have the audacity to celebrate breaking a World Cup record against Thailand? How dare Alex Morgan do a mildly funny celebration against England? It's hardly anything worthy of a Panorama documentary.

But during the Christmas break of 2020 and in the subsequent aftermath, the women's game has really riled supporters up.

A number of players from a selection of WSL clubs went to Dubai during their winter break, some caught COVID-19 and as a result, fixtures have been postponed.

Nobody broke any laws - but this is just about their only defence.

Millions of pounds have been pumped into the WSL to enable it to continue during the pandemic, and all professional footballers are in such a privileged position where they still get to do their jobs and see their teammates on a daily basis while the rest of the country is in chaos.

Obviously travelling to a foreign country was going to increase the risk of catching COVID. To fans, some of these players are now no longer perceived as the relatable, everyday individuals that they once perceived them to be - no relatable, everyday individual goes galavanting off to the United Arab Emirates during a global pandemic.

Going to Dubai in the first place leaves a lot to be desired morally given the United Arab Emirates' horrific LGBT rights record coupled with the number of openly gay players in the women's game - but that's another conversation altogether.

The behaviour of the players was the first thing to present the women's game in a pretty negative light. The response from the clubs and the league has continued in a similar vein.

Manchester United manager Casey Stoney remains the only person to apologise over the incident, stating that allowing her players to travel to Dubai was a 'poor error of judgement' on her behalf.

From the rest of the league, the silence has been deafening.

The positive tests have subsequently resulted in a number of games being postponed as clubs cannot name a matchday squad of 14 due to COVID-related reasons.

Bristol City had five first-team players self-isolating ahead of November's clash with Manchester City, but the FA refused their requests to postpone the fixture. Birmingham were forced to play with a matchday squad of 13 against Aston Villa the following week. Carla Ward had just 10 fit players for Sunday's game at home to Tottenham but a request to postpone the game was denied. The Blues have had to pull out of the fixture.

Meanwhile Manchester City and Arsenal have both had permission to postpone their fixtures, even though their players are arguably responsible for their positive tests because they fancied a holiday.

The WSL's convoluted COVID rules have effectively allowed the league's top sides to get out of fixtures at their will, while the division's smaller teams have to play on despite barely being able to field a team.

It's not just the gulf between supporters and players that Dubai gate has exposed - it's the chasm between the WSL's elite and the rest.

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