Singapore chose the right sport, but what about gender?
Picture the scene – Singapore win the World Cup. The sunny island comes to a standstill as politicians and business leaders alike acknowledge that nothing else rivals the gravitational pull of a sporting triumph.
A nation unites in celebration. The country’s footballers are feted as heroes on their return, the deserving recipients of a ticker-tape parade through Orchard Road. It is the greatest day; the day Singapore ruled the world.
So, obviously, you can’t picture it.
The suspension of disbelief won’t stretch quite that far, not for the Lions. It’s beyond the realms of possibility because they are men. And Singapore’s Lions are not ready to be leaders of men, not even close.
But these World Cup winners are not men. They are women. They are Lionesses. Hear them roar.
If the picture still appears improbable, then dispense with the negativity and pay attention at events across the Pacific because it’s happening right now. The United States’ Women’s World Cup winners are the first female athletes to be honoured with a ticker-tape parade in New York since 1960.
Such an occasion was unthinkable just a decade ago, but that’s the Americans. They think big. Dreaming isn’t an unhealthy distraction on their sporting landscape. It’s a way of life.
And maybe, just maybe, Singapore might consider adopting a similarly bold approach here. Cynicism dictates that the Lionesses are light on both investment and interest, but football is still the national sport in Singapore. It remains a distant fourth in the United States.
And cynics should probably wake up and smell the FIFA rankings.
Singapore’s women rank higher than the men. The women are currently 101st, with an average ranking of 95th. The men are 157th, with an average of 117th. There’s scant evidence to suggest that they’ll reach double figures any time soon.
A country obsessed with the best odds should arguably re-evaluate where local football is putting its money. The national game is still the right sport, but perhaps the wrong gender.
The odds are marginally in the women’s favour (along with those FIFA rankings). And heaven knows, the men have been lavished with enough opportunities to succeed at regional, continental and international level.
Archaic, misogynistic old fools will invariably dribble on about the longstanding infrastructure, support and investment associated with the men’s game, built up over decades and impossible to replicate in the short-term in the women’s game.
There are 400,000 reasons why that outdated view has more holes than Japan’s defence in the World Cup Final. Carli Lloyd has that many followers on Twitter, building up a social media presence that is already half the size of Landon Donovan’s in a matter of weeks.
The American hat-trick hero became familiar to millions in a matter of minutes – 16 to be precise. When her third goal went in, Lloyd threatened to break both social media and the Japanese backline. By the time Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres and other titans of Twitters had acknowledged Lloyd’s colossal achievements, she was the most famous North American footballer on the planet. Lloyd transcended gender, football and sport itself – in just 16 minutes.
Back in a Singaporean apartment, for the first time, my seven-year-old daughter declared that she wanted to be a footballer. She saw a role model. So I went off in search of a path and was surprised by the initial discoveries.At senior level, the Lionesses are taking part in a Hong Kong quadrangular event organised by the Chelsea Hong Kong Football School. Singapore’s squad comprises the best of the Women’s Premier League, which has just finished.
More pertinently, the Football Association of Singapore recently launched an all-girls training centre for footballers aged between seven and 12 at Queensway Secondary School as part of the FAS Cubs programme. Trials for the under-19s attracted 72 footballers. It’s not a revolution, but it’s a start.
And unlike the men’s game, the gap between the haves and the have-nots in women’s football is bridgeable.
Thailand’s men are ranked 129th in the world. With fewer resources than the men, the Thai women are 29th and qualified for their first World Cup in Canada.
The round of 16 was always going to be a bridge too far, but the 3-2 win against the Ivory Coast laid down a marker for both Thailand and Southeast Asia. These pioneering women can succeed where men continually and infuriatingly fail.
So here’s a truly revolutionary thought. Perhaps it’s not the sport, but the gender. Perhaps the obsession with unearthing the next Fandi Ahmad has unfairly negated the search for the next Carli Lloyd. Perhaps enough money has been thrown at the Lions in a bid to adhere to some Jurassic nonsense about football being a man’s game.
Perhaps it’s time to take a radical approach – let’s face it, nothing else has worked – and start a means test between the sexes. Step up and earn the tax dollars, Lions, or they get diverted towards developing Lionesses instead.
Whatever funding they’re receiving up north, the Thai women are delivering a far greater return on their investment than the men, thanks to initiatives such as the Live Your Goals campaign, a nationwide effort to encourage more girls and young women to play football.
And as the United States bask in their ticker-tape parade, it’s worth pondering an uncomfortable question never previously asked: Who has the best chance of qualifying for the World Cup – the Lions or the Lionesses?
There’s no doubt that the journey would be fraught with obstacles for the Lionesses. But the Lions are currently on a road to nowhere.