Role reversal: How Indian women football fans put the World Cup widower in his place
Close to 100 million Indians tuned in to watch the first 26 matches of the FIFA World Cup according to Sony Pictures Network, the official broadcaster of the matches in India, and audience measurer Broadcast Audience Research Council or Barc. Conventional wisdom has hitherto suggested that watching football is a male preserve. But things have clearly changed. Barc says in the first 26 matches, played between June 14 and June 22, half the viewers in India were women.
We have, then, left behind the days in which the overwhelming male obsession with football led to the coining of the phrase “soccer widows”: women who would lose their partners to the game for the duration of a major international tournament. A fortnight before the World Cup began, social media timelines were teeming with memes in which women were being advised to go on vacations since the men would be busy bringing the house down at a pub, watching World Cup football action along with their male friends. This is not new. In 2014, when American singer Katy Perry complained that the FIFA World Cup was ruining her relationship with Russell Brand, she was conforming to this stereotype. But Perry isn’t alone. Savvy marketers, mostly in the West, swear by the popularity of the genre of counterprogramming: evolving entertainment options to cater to those desperate to escape football and other sporting events. The Hollywood counterprogramming options that scored during the 2014 World Cup included the films, The Fault in Our Stars and How to Train Your Dragon 2. This summer, part of the success of the slick all-women heist, Ocean’s 8, has been attributed to similar programming.
But football-loving women in India have turned on its head this longstanding perception. With half of the total viewership being women, it appears that they are as consumed by World Cup frenzy as men. There is no need for counterprogramming in India. Nor is there a need for faintly patronising phrases such as “soccer widow”. Top quality, international football has both sexes in its embrace. The battle for the remote need not be fought at all.