The BBC has the sole rights to the women’s football World Cup, and for the first time will show each and every match. It has also named its squad of pundits and presenters. The ever-reliable Gabby Logan and Eilidh Barbour, who continues to grow into one of BBC Sport’s most versatile and gifted anchors, will share hosting duties.
They will handle a strong pundit line-up, in which Alex Scott, the expert analyst who has broken through into the mainstream, is arguably the star player.
Signing World Cup winner Hope Solo follows a rich TV sport tradition of booking a great foreign player for a big tournament: Solo is controversial, opinionated and smart. Jordan Nobbs, the Arsenal player who would have been vice-captaining England were it not for injury, should be asked to offer insights into the squad.
Former Scotland keeper Gemma Fay will join fellow goalie Rachel Brown-Finnis to shine some light on the area of the women’s game that has traditionally proven the biggest sticking point for the irregular viewer: the keeping. Perhaps they can engage another acquisition, Emma Hayes, on her recent suggestion that the goals should be made smaller for women.
No doubt the hosts will be putting to Hayes the ongoing question of whether she will be the woman who breaks the barrier and coaches top-level men’s football. And another impressive manager, Casey Stoney, will be on hand for views on tactics and preparation.
Like Brown-Finnis, Rachel Yankey will be familiar to fans of BT’s Mark Pougatch-helmed Saturday goals and scores show, and it is good to see the likes of Sue Smith, who was doing this on TV back in the dark days when women’s football coverage was an afterthought at best, still getting a gig. Dion Dublin has also got the nod, presumably just in case some of the more easily startled rump of society need to be reassured by seeing a male on their football telly.
The commentary will be mix of the familiar and the perhaps less so: Jonathan Pearce and Robyn Cowen. Scott Booth, Lucy Ward and the aforementioned Smith take up the co-commentary roles.
On the one hand, you could argue the BBC could have made a major statement about how seriously it was taking the Women’s World Cup by deploying some of its Match of the Day big beasts, for instance Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer. Some feel that this would have confirmed to the sporting nation that its state broadcaster is treating this as every bit an equal to the men’s tournament.
There are solid arguments against plugging in the male MOTD team, however. First, the talent that the BBC has assembled is not second-rate in any way. Second, while Shearer, for instance, has improved in leaps and bounds in the Gary Neville punditry era, how much does he necessarily know about the women’s game or players, and how much does he want to know? Hard to see Wor Sir Al being an especially diligent student if handed factfiles of a couple of hundred new footballers, and fair enough.
Overall, then, the BBC selection is cause for optimism that the tournament is being taken very seriously; the fact that it has talent who will not be so familiar to those who only watch men’s football tells you what you need to know about how the women’s game is growing. That this is the same, but also different, and it is OK to be OK with that.