Women’s football matches have traditionally been marked by fewer fouls, boxes, and acts of indiscipline than matches between men’s teams. The United States beat Thailand on Tuesday, scoring 13-0, the biggest score in the history of the Women’s Football World Cup.
However, none of the Thai women showed any sign of frustration. This match is one of those where there were fewer fouls, five fouls by each team. This would be a very unlikely scenario in men’s football where roughness seems to be much more important.
At the 2018 World Cup, Germany had the most “friendly” team in the competition. It committed 29 fouls against its opponents in three games. The Women’s World Cup is also marked by fewer yellow and red cards, which does not seem to be explained by the fact that it has fewer participants (24 countries) than the men’s World Cup (32 countries).
In the 2015 Women’s World Cup, 115 cards – yellow and two red – were counted, an average of 2.2 warnings and 0.1 evictions per game. This suggests not only less hard parts, but also a higher level of discipline among women towards referees.
At the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Russia, players received 219 yellow cards – an average of 3.42 per game – and four red cards. In group games, the number of fouls committed was 27 per game.
What seems to make the difference is the frequency with which men and women fall in contact with opponents. According to a 2011 study by the University of Wake Forest (USA), men appeared to be twice as likely as women to simulate injuries in contact with the opponent.
In terms of actual injuries – those where players bled visibly or were replaced in less than five minutes – Wake Forest researchers found that they accounted for less than 8% of male incidents, compared to nearly 14% of female incidents.
According to the study led by Dr. Daryl Rosembaum, these results could be explained by a series of factors. “Men are taller and faster, and collisions are more likely, so there may be more painful injuries at first, such as bruising, which does not require a player to retire from the game,” explain researchers at Wake Forest University.
“At the same time, more frequent contacts could mean more opportunities to try to influence the referee by trickery,” they add. The results also suggest that female footballers are not totally reluctant to trick themselves into influencing referees.
The facts also prove it: in a quarter-final between Germany and France, at the Women’s World Cup 2015, the French Claire Lavogez threw herself into the penalty area, in the final minutes of a match. The dive was so badly executed that the referee simply did not care, refusing to warn a footballer of the other side. And Lavogez missed the penalty that will be crucial in the victory of the Germans on penalties.
“I think women do not like this side of the game,” said Julie Foudy, former US captain and now ESPN television consultant. “But my cynical side tells me that as women become more sophisticated and watch the game grow and the stakes increase, they will resort to this trick game,” adds Foudy.