Summer Sports: Women Rock, Fathers Weep

July 18, 2011 Michael Kaufman


Every four years, my neighbourhood in downtown Toronto goes crazy. With people living around here from all over the world, a United Nation’s worth of flags hang from front porches and apartment balconies or flap from car windows. Streets regularly clog with honking cars of celebrating men and women or the streets are shut down to all but pedestrians. What’s happening? Well, it’s the FIFA (men’s) World Cup of football, or soccer as we call it here in Canada and the US.

Well, this past week saw the final matches of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and I didn’t see one single flag nor hear a honking horn. A small picture did make it onto the front page of my morning newspaper, but when I visit, say, the Guardian website—a progressive newspaper if there is one—there is nothing to be seen on their homepage, although there is a lead story about which (male) players are getting signed by which team.

It’s a shame since there were many fantastically-played and nail-biting games, filled with all the athleticism and drama you could hope for. In fact, many were more exciting than the games I caught in that other world cup.

When it comes to sport, women’s sports are still an afterthought. You can even see it in the name: the men’s event doesn’t even have the word “men” in it; the women’s event is clearly the women’s auxiliary.

And when not an afterthought, the men who run the sport are now trying to sell women players not as worthy athletes but as sex objects, even given their blessing to young women from a German national team posing for Playboy. (And sadly, many of those women fell into the trap of saying they wanted to prove that women athletes weren’t ugly.)

That too is a damn shame.

But it’s great to see women taking their (over)due place on the soccer pitch.


Two of the biggest annual men’s golf tournaments happened over the past few weeks: the US Open and then The Open (or British Open).

Aside from the interesting quirk that two players from the tiny nation of Northern Ireland won both events, there were some wonderful and delightful moments (aside from the golf, that is, which you might love or just as likely might hate.)

There was the sight of the US Open winner, the boyish Rory McIlroy, joyously hugging his father. It was more than the now-standard athlete’s hug. It was a hug that communicated total uncommercialized joy, love, surprise, pride, and I’m-so-happy-because-I-know-you-must-be-so-proud.

And this past weekend, the longer–in-the-tooth Darren Clarke won The Open even though, just a few years ago, he was seen as washed up. I loved the way he spoke without the normal athlete’s clichés about his boys, his ups and downs, and his sheer joy. I loved the way he alluded to his now-dead wife and the terrible time he went through when she died but also how he didn’t get sucked into the US interviewer’s attempt to get some tear-jerking quotes. I loved that commentators talked about him as an emotional man prone to heartfelt tears and emotional honesty without seeing these things as an Achilles heel for playing at the highest level.


While on the subject of sports, there have been many terrific books over the years about men, masculinity, gender and sports.  Here are a few: