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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

Mexican waves: Good for women's football?

The first Mexican wave supposedly took place at the 1986 World Cup - in Mexico, unsurprisingly. Now, they're a mainstay of large stadium sports.

Scientifically, Mexican waves take place when "there is nothing interesting happening," says researcher Illes Farkas. Some find them fun; others feel that they distract from the game that they've paid to see - I myself am in the latter category.

The latest wave controversy centred around the Lionesses' Wembley game versus Brazil, at the first ever Women's Finalissima. A player was on the ground with a head injury, and a wave took hold. This caused criticism across Twitter, with the wave deemed disrespectful.

The injury itself could have been a bad one. Timing and consideration for what's happening on the pitch should be taken into account when someone's planning to start a wave, or they prove an unnecessary distraction for fans that are trying to watch the game.

However, as entertainment for a less engaged crowd, I anticipate Mexican waves continuing to be a big part of the women's game at larger stadiums - at least in the short term - as the game grows.

Post Euros, we're still in a settling-in period for women's football and its fans.

For many attending the games, women's football is still a novelty. Younger children with short attention spans may be attending. Others may only be there for the big ticket games.

As the clubs and the national teams invest in sustainable growth, we need those less-engaged fans as bums on seats. The next step, as Manchester United Manager Marc Skinner puts it, is that they become a "brain on a seat", and they start to engage with the game. That's where Mexican waves can help.

Mexican waves may seem like a first step for fans to get more involved.

FIFA itself is all for Mexican waves, claiming that they're a symbol of inclusiveness, spanning all fans, regardless of who you support. Its article shares that waves are "about joy – in being part of something bigger – appreciating the occasion, the participants, and even making some noise."

New fans may want to feel part of something, and the Mexican wave is an easy way to get there. More invested fans may want to simply watch the football and avoid distractions. However, Mexican waves tend to build from a general consensus to participate.

Waves need mass participation to gather momentum.

Waves only need between 25 to 35 people to get started.

They can be halted in their tracks if enough people refuse to engage. In 2015, England fans stopped Italian fans in Turin from having their fun by refusing to allow the wave to sweep through their away stand. In 2016, a repeat of the same, with England fans blocking the attempts of German supporters.

As the wave at the Finalissima circled Wembley more than once, this suggests that those that dislike waves - or felt that starting one when a player was down wasn't the right time - were in the minority. The majority of the crowd joined in, proving FIFA's claims of how inclusive the wave can be.

If a wave happens during play, it can be seen as a negative comment on how the team is playing.

"[A wave] is not offensive and is not targeted directly at them as players, but it speaks volumes about their performance and the quality of the game," says Mark Nicholls, in an opinion piece for the Eastern Daily Press.

After the game against Spain during the Euros in a Lionesses Live interview, England Captain Leah Williamson commented that the players hadn't seen a Mexican wave, so the crowd must have been engaged.

The players see the waves when they do happen - and understand how it reflects on their performance.

It's then down to the players to react to this indirect criticism, and create more engagement.

In 2021, Eddie Jones, then Head Coach of the England national Rugby team, said that he saw Mexican waves as a challenge to his players.

“The 82,000 who go on Saturday, our target is to make sure they don’t do Mexican waves, so we play such a good quality of rugby they haven’t got time to do that,” he said.

If waves start to take hold more frequently, it could give our players the same boost to pick up their game - with the secondary consequence of getting more people engaged too.

I anticipate that Mexican waves will stick around in the short term - but may dwindle in time.

Mexican waves will always happen. They do in the men's game and in other sports. But I believe that they'll happen less in women's football - and at more appropriate times - as more fans get invested.

When you're engaged and interested, you're unlikely to want to flail your arms around. You'll want to watch what's happening on the pitch.

Mexican waves may well therefore play a part in their own partial-demise.

If they can help fans feel more involved in the game, those fans may soon become dismissive of the wave, or more selective about when they participate in them.

Emirates stadium on 1 May 2023 will be the real test. For the UEFA Women's Champions League semi-final home leg against Wolfsburg, we're at around 30,000 tickets sold - and counting.

Let's see how a Mexican wave fares at such a high stakes game, with plenty of Arsenal fans who will be very invested in the result.

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