England Women’s 20-0 thrashing of Latvia has opened up a debate about the fairness of international sport, with experts warning unfair games might be financially damaging to the sport.
Following a record-breaking night for the Lionesses fans, the England manager and one of the Latvia player’s parents, fans and commentators have questioned the worth of matches between well-funded nations like the UK and US and psrt time teams
The Lionesses are all full-time professional athletes, who play and club and international level, while Latvia’s football team is made up mostly of teenagers who have other jobs alongside sport.
One parent of a Latvian player commented on a report of the game on The Guardian’s website, saying: ‘I am a bit biased (obviously), but everyone should know these girls should play at their own level and develop without unnecessary humiliation… there is something not quite wholesome about the whole business.’
They added that the time may have come for smaller nations where the players are inexperienced and have day jobs alongside playing football to pre-qualify for the right to take on bigger nations such as England.
The scoreboard tells a humiliating story as England Women’s team thrashed Latvia 20-0
Latvia goalkeeper Alina Sklemenova can’t bear to look after conceding the 20th goal
The 20-0 scoreline even left England head coach Sarina Wiegman questioning whether such games were worthwhile.
‘Of course you want competitive games and these are not competitive games,’ she said.
‘We want to develop well-developed countries and the countries that are not that far on, so in every country you want to develop the women’s game.
‘But I don’t think it’s good that the scores are so high. I know that has the attention of the federations and UEFA, FIFA and I think that’s good because I don’t think 20-0 is good for the development of anyone.’
Commentators have also questioned if the mismatch could be damaging to women’s sport – which has seen exponential growth in recent years.
Speaking today, talkSPORT producer Kim Kothari said such huge defeats were ‘bad for the game’.
‘It is absolutely ruthless. It looks fantastic for England, I think on a personal level for players like Ellen White, who was top scorer and others that scored a hattrick, it was a fantastic night for them, but for the game, it doesn’t look particularly good.
‘And we had it a couple of weeks ago when England men’s beat San Marino 10 nil and there was a call for sort of a qualification process so that kind of result didn’t happen.
Georgia Stanway of England celebrates a goal during the FIFA Women’s World Cup after a 20-0 defeat
‘And I think he’s a little bit more pertinent in the women’s game because of the lack of funding.
‘England. Australia, the United States of America, Holland countries like that, put so much emphasis into the women’s game funded properly.
‘So we have these amazing players and we have these academies that can bring through and cultivate talent. But countries like Latvia just don’t have that and they haven’t put any emphasis on it. So you end up getting games like this where you’ve got 11 professionals against 11 kind of semi pro or amateur players’.
Meanwhile, the goalkeeper who started for Latvia in the World Cup qualifier at Doncaster, 18-year-old Laura Sinutkina, suffered embarrassment enough in conceding eight first-half goals.
But the player who replaced her at half-time, 17-year-old Alina Sklemenova, was not only humiliated by conceding 12 times on her international debut but by having video clips of her mistakes go viral on Twitter.
In total, England had 64 shots on the Latvian goal (on average, one every 84 seconds), of which 31 were on target and 20 scored. Latvia had zero.
England have scored 30 goals past part-timers Latvia in two World Cup qualifier against them
England also scored 10 goals in a match against Luxembourg earlier in World Cup qualifying
Others have taken to Twitter to lament the unfairness at the game.
Sports blogger Tim Stillman wrote: ‘Latvia had a lot of their team unavailable last night because players couldn’t get time off from their jobs, which emphasises the gap between them and a NT like England as much as the final score does.’
Another fan wrote: ‘England Women are 20-0 up against Latvia. I mean fair play to England but how is this meant to help increase interest in woman’s football? Complete mismatch and quite frankly embarrassing for the competition.’
A third commented: ‘Fair play to the totally dominant England Women’s Football Team, but this Latvia team is way, way off the pace. 20-0 really ought not to be happening in international competition’
Others branded it ‘a glorified training session’ while another wrote ‘This England women’s match isn’t fair… I feel awful for Latvia tbh.’.
Even the England coach Sarina Wiegman questioned the purpose of such one-sided matches
It isn’t as though such beatings are rare events. In this qualification group alone, England have walloped North Macedonia 8-0, Luxembourg 10-0 and Latvia away from home 10-0. They then took that score and doubled it on Tuesday night.
England have now scored 53 goals in six qualifying matches for the tournament, which will be staged jointly between Australia and New Zealand in 2023.
And it isn’t just England with the huge defeats, during the 2020 Olympics this summer New Zealand beat Zambia 10-3, and China 8-2, while the US also beat New Zealand 8-2.
In these qualifiers, Northern Ireland beat North Macedonia 9-0 at home and 11-0 away, while Austria have hit eight goals in two matches.
Elsewhere, France scored 11 times against Estonia and 10 against Greece. The Republic of Ireland beat Georgia 11-0, Spain thrashed the Faroe Islands 12-0 and Belgium hit double figures against Armenia.
England reached the semi-finals of the last World Cup, losing to the United States
The cavernous gulf between the top countries, who boast professional players, deep talent pools and proper facilities, and the minnows who have none of those things, appears bigger than ever.
The comment on the Guardian claimed just 200 women play football in Latvia and the national team is only able to train twice a week because their players must work and, in some cases, go to school.
It isn’t a phenomenon unique to women’s football. England men’s team recently scored 10 goals against San Marino but such results are increasingly fewer and further between.
It is certainly a problem for European football’s governing body UEFA and the global overseers of the game, FIFA.
Others have taken to Twitter to lament the unfairness at the game. Sports blogger Tim Stillman wrote: ‘Latvia had a lot of their team unavailable last night because players couldn’t get time off from their jobs, which emphasises the gap between them and a NT like England as much as the final score does.’
However, some critics have argued Latvia and others on the receiving end of these humiliations are sovereign nations and, as such, have an equal right to try and qualify for major tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Championship.
For the players in their teams, football offers an unrivalled opportunity to travel and see the world even if work commitments precluded several Latvian players from coming over to England on this occasion.
But UEFA and FIFA are acutely aware that one-sided games are a turn-off for viewers at home and fans who buy tickets.
If interest drains away, it will affect commercial revenues that are fed back into developing the women’s game.
While the governing bodies are committing more money to countries without professional players and clubs, there are no guarantees the gap will ever be bridged.
And there must be a limit as to how many double-digit defeats players can take before they fall out of love with the game.
One solution is to make smaller countries play each other in pre-qualifying to then progress to a second phase which will see them take on bigger and better countries.
This will mean more games against opponents of similar standard and would mean countries like England arrive at tournaments better prepared having been tested by stronger teams.
An example from the men’s game – the UEFA Nations League – could be replicated for women’s teams.
This ranks each nation on ability into four Leagues and ensures each game is against opposition of similar standard.
It also keeps the incentive of a qualifying place so playing in a major tournament isn’t just an impossible dream for the minnows.
But to implement such a split would require agreement from a host of smaller countries and they would be reluctant to give up glamour games against the likes of England, Spain and France, which draw in money and interest.