Sexism and Football: A woman’s view

With the controversy of Andy Gray and Richard Keys versus Sian Massey still very much in the headlines, the role of women in sports is more discussed than it has been for a very long time. That it took a male commentator with a history of playing for big Scottish and English clubs to make a sexist comment in order for us to be discussing the role of women in football is a discouraging sign.

Whilst Sian Massey ought to have been kept out of the spotlight it is female footballers whose teams are regularly underreported. In Scotland and England where clearly the most popular sport is football, the women’s teams are much underreported. In England, many people have opinions on Ashley Cole and Fernando Torres; few people have opinions on Sophie Perry and Amber Simms. The same is true in Scotland where whilst Gary Hooper and Kyle Lafferty are household names, Julie Ferguson and Lana Clelland are not as well known. So, whilst women’s teams have been formed, they are not nearly as well publicised as the male equivalent teams.

Sophie Perry of Chelsea and England

Willie Collum and Jarnail Singh have been singled out because of their respective religions. The discouraging sign is, in terms of gender, religion and ethnicity, there is a certain establishment mentality which wants power within the game to belong exclusively to those who have typically been powerful in the past. Those who argue that football is “a man’s game” fail to recognise just how universal the game has become within UK culture: a woman who turns her attention to the rules of the game, in the same way that a referee obviously would, will understand the sport much more than an amateur male follower. Woman’s football is the fastest growing sport in the world, but does not receive the media attention it deserves.

Some have argued that commenting upon a female referee’s appearance is no different to female discussion of male footballer’s looks. Women discuss the looks of attractive male footballers both casually and in the media, although this is done less than the discussion of female tennis players and even footballer’s wives (who after all, do not always choose to become famous). There would have been no difference if Andy Gray had been capable of distinguishing Massey’s gender and level of attractiveness from her ability to do her job. However his comments suggested that he questioned if she could understand the rules of the game, just because he found her attractive. And this belief was founded in his sexism.

What is the answer to this sexism in football? Three things could help:

The employment of more women to jobs in which either sex can apply, for example refereeing and sports reporting, would help gender to become less of an issue as it became more normalised.

The promotion of women’s teams and the female game at all levels could also indicate that women do take interest in all aspects of the game: not just that of a supporter.

And, of course, the lesson which has been learned from the Gray versus Massey incident is that match officials should, of course, only be mentioned in terms of their ability to do their job: not in terms of irrelevant information like their gender.


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