World Cup 2019 is well underway, and Trädgården is one of the many places around Stockholm you can watch it. But they’re not only showing the games, they’re also putting in the effort to make it an event too. So before Sweden’s two remaining group games, and potentially any future games if they make it out of the group (2-0 win against Chile in the opening game, looking good so far), they’ll be hosting some panel discussions on women’s football in collaboration with Stockholms Kvinnohistoriska, led by the sports journalist and author Anja Gatu. Topics include ‘Class and Origins’ and ‘Money and Identity’, with those panels being held before Sweden’s games against Thailand and the US respectively. We caught a few words with Gatu to find out more.
Many are saying women’s football has been on a sharp upward curve over the past couple of years, with traditional giants like Juventus and Manchester United starting professional clubs over the last two years. Why do you think this growth in the game is happening at this moment? What have been some of the major developments of the last five years?
I think it’s a combination of different things: partially the spirit of the times with #metoo and such movements, where questions of equality are in the spotlight in a new way. Partially that the big clubs have seen that with relatively small means and little money, they can put together a strong women’s team, something which strengthens their brand in a very positive way. Partially that sponsors have begun to show interest in a different kind of sponsorship, where they want to have something more from their collaborations than just being associated with big stars: they want to stand for something deeper and be involved in something bigger than just being visually present. All these thing hang together naturally. It’s become possible to commercialise the struggle for equality and diversity, with all the good and the bad that comes with that.
Can you give us a quick run-through of the issues you’ll be discussing before the matches?
More or less what I spoke about in the previous answer – to discuss why this is happening now and what the consequences of it are. But also to discuss the splits that are opening up – some clubs in Sweden are able to profit from these developments, but many still have big economic problems. Moreover, the Allsvenskan isn’t one of the world’s best leagues anymore, so what are the consequences of that for Swedish football – from both a club and national team perspective? In the world rankings, we see that Sweden has fallen from the top five down to ninth, and two of the countries who are now up where Sweden has always been are two of the countries who have focused a lot on their domestic leagues over the last few years: France and England. We’ll even be talking about different strategies to strengthen economic development, and through that we’ll be talking about the players’ union struggles going on in different parts of the world.
A lot of the coverage around women’s football tends to focus the overall health of the game in terms of finances and attendances, but your discussions will dig deeper and explore issues, such as class and access to the sport and the ‘identity’ the sport ought to maintain as it develops. Did you want to give the audience an insight into some of the deeper questions the sport is facing at the moment?
Yes, I have chosen the subjects that I myself think are exciting, and that I think are essential for women’s football’s development from a historical perspective and are also extremely relevant topics today. It’s seldom that one gets the chance to discuss an exciting subject in this way, and get to really get deep into the issues at hand with people who are experts, but can come in with an entirely different perspective. And that’s what I want to share with the audience!
Sponsorship is starting to flow into the sport at the moment, do you think that makes this time crucial for the future development of women’s football? That structures have to be put in place and reinforced to handle and properly use this influx of money, without getting overpowered by commercial interests?
Yes, I think we’re in the middle of a historic moment right now. The whole sport can be raised up, but in which way will it be done? Which values are important to protect? Women’s football has in many ways found its own identity beyond men’s football, [an identity] where diversity and tolerance are important values, and without hooliganism and so on. FC Rosengård recently turned down a sponsorship contract because the company that wanted to sponsor them didn’t fit with the club’s values, and their brand as a socially-conscious club was more important than the money they would have gotten from the sponsorship. How long can they afford to do that? Will all clubs think the same way? Or is it better for the sport’s development to just be sucked into the enormous stream of money that men’s football is in? How much will is there in women’s football to stand against that, and to try and build something of its own?
Finally, what are your predictions for the rest of the World Cup? Have the US made themselves the favourites with their demolition of Thailand, and how do you rate Sweden’s chances?
It’s difficult to say at such an early stage of the tournament – the opening games aren’t a good indicator of the teams’ quality, and even if it’s not going to be tough for Sweden to get out of the group, they’re got a tough path through the knockout rounds. So I don’t believe Sweden will go very far in this World Cup. But it’s more difficult than ever to predict anything this year, which makes it fun! All of the big favourites have had initial problems, apart from maybe the US, but you also can’t draw too many conclusions from a match against Thailand either. I must also say that France have started surprisingly well, they don’t seem to be troubled by the pressure of playing at home – the opposite in fact. It’s going to be exciting to follow the rest of the tournament!
‘Class and Origins’ – Jun 16, 13:30. Match Sweden vs Thailand starts 15:00
‘Money and Identity’ – June 20, 19:30. Match Sweden vs USA starts 21:00
Football at Trädgården, Hammarby Slussväg 2
Photo: Sima Korenivski