Fair game

Claims championing the prowess of women have come thick and fast in the last weeks.

First, it was over a meal when one of my sons argued forcefully that women have always been the great civilisers, and that it is through their influence on men that people live together as citizens and that society has developed. This aspect of womankind was illustrated by observations in rural China. There, as a result of long term population management, the proportion of women has fallen dramatically, and in their absence, men have become feral and go around in gangs.

Then it was an article in Le Monde arguing that there should be more women in senior positions in French industry. Apart from the need to remedy the pitifully low proportion at present, one strand of the argument was that women have some important advantageous qualities. Accordingly, had there been more women in the banking system in recent years we might well have been spared the current financial crisis. The reason: compared to men, women are less likely to take risks and more likely to think long-term.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of these positions, and I feel there is much truth in both, a third and very different dimension of the place of women was played out two Sundays ago in Frankfurt. I refer to the women’s World Cup football final between the USA and Japan.

We have no television in our French cottage so it was off down the road to watch it with Jean-Claude. I was very excited, but clearly interest amongst other would-be watchers was rather different. When I was last there for an equivalent international, the men’s World Cup, in addition to Jean-Claude and myself, the audience included his wife, his two daughters, a friend and two relatives. Indeed his TV room was heaving. For whatever reason, this time it was different – just the two of us. One daughter, a fervent Manchester United supporter, paid fleeting visits; one kept clear; and his wife spent much of the time asleep. But what an event it was!

Both teams were outstanding, and we watched spellbound as the favourites, the Americans, had no easy answer to the ball-playing intricacy and sheer determination of the Japanese. There was the usual guile and cunning, and the players as individuals were very skilled – the backward flick from a corner that allowed Japan to equalise in the second half of extra time was extraordinary. Ultimately the game went to a penalty shoot-out and Japan won.

But there was something else going on, something very refreshing. Unlike when men play, there was no harassment of the referee to try to make her change her mind; little or no falling over in order to trick the referee into penalising the opponents; no histrionics of pain or feigning injury to gain advantage or divert attention; no bone-crunching, injury-risking, aggression; and finally no triumphalism when goals were scored. What we were treated to was just great, unadulterated, football. It may be because the women’s game is not yet ‘professional’, it may be that the culture of the two countries is gentler (unlikely!), but whatever the reason, if men could play football like these women, what a pleasure it would be to watch.

And wouldn’t it be lovely too if women were allowed to bring this sanity to business and to society at large?

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