Eyes on the prize

Coco Gauff. Wimbledon, 2019.

I sat up and watched the first half of last night’s Women’s World Cup Final between USA and Netherlands, and it made great viewing. I’m no soccer pundit but I have immense respect for the idea of the game as a platform for many things. Exercise, competition, entertainment – it’s been called the most popular sport in the world.

A source of extreme sponsorship deals and extortionate salaries, soccer’s unique blend of controversy and celebrity continue to guarantee it a levitated brand status amongst millions of young wannabe players or ageing supporters.

In the UK, football is more important to some people than religion, family, work, or any truly higher plain or life calling. Without soccer, for these disciples, life would fundamentally cease to have meaning.

Where you fall on the side of loving or despising the “Great Game” itself, 2019 will surely go down as the year that the world woke up and recognized just how wholly discriminatory the world of soccer has been towards women. That will simply now never be the same again.    

As disappointing as it is to realise that it has taken so long for this moment to come about – and, of course, we are way, WAY off of any kind of mainstreamed, cultural epiphany about actual equity in terms of men and women’s football – it has, finally, come about, and it must now never reverse and lose that momentum.

The Wimbledon tennis finals will also take place this weekend and, as I type this, Coco Gauff will be waking up somewhere in South West London, preparing to face her fourth round opponent.

Gauff is 15 years old. She dispatched Venus Williams this time last week, and is making history every time she wins another point. She is an incredible athlete. An inspiring, young fighter. And whilst I’d happily spend time highlighting the success of someone so young were she instead to be a young man, it really is that extra bit special that Coco Gauff isn’t.

Whilst Gauff’s inspiration is one that will naturally appeal to young women (Gauff admits to having always aspired to being as successful as the Williams sisters she watched as a young girl) let’s look forward in ten year’s time to hearing how Gauff’s role modeling helped shape the winner of Wimbledon 2029, or even 2039 – the person in question, perhaps, yet to have even been born.

As exciting and powerful as these sporting episodes have been of late, and as key as they will be in the future – milestones which chip away at our patriarchal structures and norms, barely altered for millions of years now – these public figures are only one part of a puzzle that still needs to be put together.

So many more pieces of which are yet to be connected.

It’s not anywhere near good enough that parts of the media might finally be promoting women in sport. Or that, say, future prize money might be adjusted in favour of equal pay.

It’s of no consequence at all, either, that a father of two daughters blogs his support of any type of conceptual gender equity.

It all comes down to institutional changes AND the changes we have influence over each day as individuals.

The choices and decisions we make for, and with, our children as they grow.

The ones we make with our peers on a day-to-day basis. What we do and say in public spaces, in the workplace, or on the football pitch. Each action and moment and choice counts.

Just as each serve, volley, forehand, smash and drop shot will, later today, contribute to Coco Gauff’s fourth round game, as well as to her story of change.

Like her, we must keep our eyes on the prize, try to do our very best, and hold on to the idea that one day this puzzle will be completed.

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