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Sexism & The World Cup

If you didn’t know…the World Cup is happening.

It’s in Russia, which has opened it’s doors like never before to reveal a very friendly and accommodating people, as well as a beautiful country. It has been full of surprises, none more so than the fact that (at the time of writing) England are in the Semi Finals. It has been a global party enjoyed by fans of the 32 countries that qualified, as well as millions of others around the world from countries that didn’t, and everyone is invited.

Except women, it would seem.

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There is a real and urgent sexism problem that is unravelling right in front of our eyes, and we are doing nothing about it.

Let’s start first with pundits, analysts and commentators. I’ve been watching the World Cup on two English television stations, BBC and ITV. These are both free-to-air stations that can be watched by everyone across the UK without a subscription. And I have to praise both of them, for they have made it their mission to include female pundits, analysts and commentators at almost every match they broadcast. Now, before anyone thinks that this is mere tokenism, let me make another point very clear. These women know what they are talking about. They have studied the game, played the game, and are paid to analyse the game, and they do it better than many of their male counterparts. As a reward for this, they receive a quite frankly embarrassing and outrageous amount of abuse from many men for just doing their jobs. In the weeks that I have been watching the World Cup, I have heard and seen comments on social media ranging from “she’s a woman, what could she know about a man’s game” (ignorant, patronising and ridiculous) to “her voice is too high-pitched to commentate on soccer” (let’s not even get started on this).

Women know that these criticisms are heading their way, and I am sure that the female pundits and commentators that I’ve been watching on television have prepared doubly as hard as their male counterparts to ensure that they excel.

In fact, one such pundit, Eni Aluko, who by the way has only played for the England Women’s team 102 times, gave a brilliant analysis on Costa Rica’s playing style earlier in the tournament. What happened? Patrice Evra, the former Manchester United player, who was sitting next to her, clapped his hands at her as if to say “Well done.” Now, do we think that Patrice would have done that to a male pundit? Does he ever do it to a male pundit? No, he doesn’t. He did it because he was genuinely surprised that a woman could analyse soccer. This level of thinking may not be a total shock to us though coming from a man who, when talking about players from his own country, France, answered that he didn’t know very much about them. Glittering punditry there.

However, I want to take this argument even deeper. It looks as if I’m arguing that only women who have played soccer have the right to analyse and commentate on the game. Again, wrong. Soccer is a global sport, and it is for everybody. Trust me, I have been playing the game since I could walk and I’m still pretty sure I know next to nothing about it. Go on the London Underground and listen to men having conversations about soccer; one load of bullshit after another. So, if we as men are allowed to have incorrect and flawed opinions about soccer, why can’t women? We shouldn’t feel threatened by women to have to denigrate and deny them the chance to enjoy sport as well.

Men don’t own sport, least of all soccer, and we need to learn that women have just as much of a right to discuss and watch it as we do.

A British TV presenter, Dan Walker, can sum it up much better than me, so I’ll leave it to him to end this particular argument:

Dan Walker‏Verified account @mrdanwalker Jun 21

Women love football. Women play football. Women can analyse football. You can still love, play & analyse football. It doesn’t mean – as a bloke – you have to be threatened by their knowledge, presence or expertise. Get over it. We can all enjoy the #WorldCup.

I also want to say something about an even bigger problem that really is happening in front of our eyes. At this World Cup, there have been (to my count) three incidents in which female television reporters and presenters have been live on camera when a man has run up to them and sexually assaulted them. I could have written that a man has come up to them and kissed them on the cheek while touching their breast, but let’s call a spade a spade shall we; it’s sexual assault.

Now, considering the events of the past year, Weinstein and #MeToo, can anyone believe that behaviour like this is happening so brazenly?

The #MeToo movement related to workplace sexual abuse and harassment, but the point was that much of this abuse happened behind closed doors where the abusers could hide in the shadows. Having just been through a process where all of this behaviour has been brought to light, how can it be possible that the very same behaviour is now happening in broad daylight on television being broadcast to millions of people?

What’s more, these incidents are mentioned for a day and then forgotten, consigned to the history in the ‘headline-a-minute’ world in which we now live. We may have forgotten them, but I’ll bet the women that were assaulted won’t be forgetting them any time soon. I think the lack of discussion on incidents like these is very saddening. It’s as if we have some sort of air of resignation about us where we believe and accept that it is bound to happen, so why should we bother to fight it really. It’s a form of tacit consent, we’re shocked for a day and then we forget.

Even more scarily, as Dana Moutis pointed out to me the other day, “its so normalized people don’t even know how to converse about it or even worse how to make it stop.” I don’t claim to have the answers to that, but at least let me try to get us talking about it. No more hiding.

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