- Beyond Bend It Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer by Timothy F Grainey,
In Beyond Bend It Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer, Timothy F. Grainey argues that contrary to popular perceptions of women’s soccer as second-rate to men’s soccer, it deserves to be supported as much as its male counterpart. He argues his claim that the ultimate goal of women’s soccer is its “universal acceptance that it is proper, acceptable, and beneficial for girls and women to play soccer” through immense amounts of detail (p. 243). Drawing from sources such as the U.S. Soccer’s Annual Media Guides, Soccer America, FIFA Magazine, and team websites, Grainey combines statistical and anecdotal knowledge with academic background in a readable and enjoyable manner. Overall, the book provides a wealth of information from across the globe and does so in a concise and thoughtful way.
The book’s organization allows the author to make connections about soccer in all parts of the world while including historical analysis in his largely comparative arguments. Part One focuses on the recent rapid growth of women’s soccer in the United States. Deftly connecting the history of amateur, semi-professional, and professional soccer in the U.S., Grainey traces the path following the Title IX mandate demanding gender equality in college sports to the United States Women’s National Team’s performance in the 1996 Olympics and 1999 Women’s World Cup. Following the Olympic success of the women’s team, there were several attempts to start a professional women’s league, including the National Soccer Alliance and the Women’s United Soccer Association. Grainey tracks the [End Page 173] key individuals in these movements, highlighting their successes while explaining their eventual failures.
Part Two moves soccer into a global context and explores the challenges of the sport in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, particularly taking into account long-standing cultural biases against women playing such a physical game. Grainey expertly maneuvers between regions, supplying the reader with seemingly unending personal accounts and examples of the struggles women go through to achieve high-level soccer play. From Islamic rejection of women’s soccer based on sharia law to ingrained machismo attitudes in Latin America that block attempts to further develop women’s soccer, the author demonstrates how varying levels of lack of cultural, financial, and national support form obstacles, but Grainey ends by summarizing the positive changes in women’s soccer internationally.
Switching from region-specific explorations to the ways in which a wide variety of countries are building national teams, Part Three explores upcoming ways of nurturing national teams to compete on the global stage. Despite their disparate backgrounds, countries such as Russia and Canada are utilizing their tools to develop women’s soccer at a national level. With each assessment, Grainey provides a number of examples to support his claims. For example, he argues that many countries are leveraging their wide diasporas to bring back skilled players to their ancestral nations to play for the national team. To support his claim, he provides specific cases from Italy, the Ukraine, Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. Once again, the author’s close attention to detail combined with a wide overview of the global sport upholds his arguments.
Grainey continually returns to the issues that separate women’s soccer from men’s soccer. One of the most prominent differences, and perhaps most difficult to overcome, is the disparity in pay. Women are often forced to choose between a lucrative career and playing professional soccer; frequently, the choice to play soccer results in below minimum wage salaries. The author explores the wide variety of examples, ranging from the almost unheard-of $500,000 three-year contract the Brazilian star Marta had with the Los Angeles Sol, to the Brazilian team Santos, where players complain of poor food rations, dingy living conditions, and salaries from $50–$250 a month. On...