Naked Politics Blogger
The world’s eye has been on Russia for the last few weeks. However, something other than the footie has been part of conversation during the tournament this year- something that has been the secret shame of the Beautiful Game since its creation: sexism towards women. This sexism has expressed itself in the two main areas women participate in the industry- on the pitch and off the pitch.
Firstly, women on the pitch have long been forgotten in favour of the men which is the same in many sports. In 2015 British pundit Gary Lineker was called out on Twitter for crediting Lionel Messi with a world soccer first, despite American soccer player Mia Hamm and China’s Sun Wen achieving the same in 2003. Female football players have also often been called ‘dykes’, ‘lesbians’ or ‘manly’ by commentators and social media users alike, alongside sexually aggressive messages and comments too.
There have been significant strides in terms of the visibility and availability of women’s football in the media in the past five years, however these advances also come at a time when more women in the football media industry feel targeted as a result of their sex. According to FIFA’s WIF study, more than twice as many women in football claim to have been sexually harassed and almost three times as many to have been denied access on gendered grounds since the inaugural survey was carried out in 2014. Sexist remarks about female linesman, referees and commentators are also on the rise (although it is debated whether or not this is connected to the prevalence of the #MeToo movement and callout culture).
When the BBC’s Vicki Sparks made history as the first woman to commentate a live televised men’s match, one of the major topics of the match on twitter were the discussions around her commentary, with many football fans complaining of ‘turning off’ the sound on their TV’s during her commentary. This reaction to female commentators may be why of the 16,000 journalists accredited to cover the World Cup in Russia just 14% are women, according to the tournament organiser, FIFA.
Responding to the WIF survey findings, the overseeing committee said: “Two years on from our first ever ground-breaking survey on women’s views in the football industry, the message is loud and clear: still not enough is being done to support women employed in the sector, or protect them from discrimination and abuse. With twice the number of women reporting sexual harassment and banning from certain areas within their own workplace, WiF urgently calls on the governing bodies of the game to work together to bring football into the 21st century and make it a safe, welcoming and progressive industry for all women to work in.” However, it can be debated whether these suggestions have been put into place at all in the past year and a half since the report.
Women in senior supporting positions behind the scenes are also often subjected to sexism, as Chelsea doctor Eve Carneiro demonstrated when Manchester United fan filmed spectators shouting the sexually aggressive chant ‘get your t**s out for the lads’ as she attended a player injury. The next year, Chelsea was found to be in the wrong for defending the ‘gender motivated’ sacking of Carneiro by then manager Mourinho. During the trial it emerged that Mourinho sacked Eve because he disliked her ‘assertive personality’. This highlights the issues women have off the pitch as well.
As England gets closer to that long-pursued dream of bringing football home, we should think about the way we treat women who participate in our nation’s favourite sport. Because regardless of who hoists the trophy on July 15th it will have taken the joint efforts of both men and women to take the team to victory.