A Bird’s Eye View: The BBC Tackles Sexism In Football

By on Apr 5, 2012 in Latest, Opinion | 4 comments

The wry announcement beforehand ‘so *is* there sexism in football?’ wasn’t a great start was it? Neither was scheduling it for 10.45pm, tucked away after the lottery draw. Okay, so it was never going to be telling us anything new but BBC1′s ‘Sexism in Football?’ documentary was at times refreshingly honest, even if as Anna Kessel pointed out the ‘?’ wasn’t really needed. Any women working in football has a story of being asked to make the tea, explain the offside rule or point out which player they fancy but nevertheless Vicky Kloss’s description of being barred from the tunnel was still shocking to me, perhaps because I cover non-league football, where there are fewer security guards with superiority complexes and sometimes no actual tunnel to speak of.

Hearing some of the top women in the game talk about their experiences, experiences which were startlingly similar to some of mine at the other end of the pyramid was great but it would have been nice to hear from women at all levels of the game. What about the female physios who endure the jeers from fans? What about Caroline Barker from the non-league show? And where were the fans who now make up a quarter of all crowds and a third of those watching at home?

I have had managers refuse to tell me who new players are during pre-season friendlies ‘because its nothing to do with you’ – before chatting to male reporters at length, like Vicky Klosse thinking the security guards blocking her way were joking I thought this guy was having a laugh, nope, he was serious, no details for me. When Gabby Logan said she was initially hesitant about getting involved in a programme about women in the game because ‘you want to get on and prove you can do the job’ I found myself nodding in agreement. But then I’m already involved in the game myself, for the young women who are not it would have been nice to hear about what inspired some the likes of Vicky Kloss, Jo Tongue and Jacky Bass to get involved in the game and how they started.

It’s not all wolf whistles and pervy looks – on the whole, it’s fine but there is a niggling undertone, something which never really goes away, that as a female reporter have to make sure my reports are flawless and every detail is spot on because as a women writing about ‘a man’s sport’ I am under more scrutiny. On the occasions where there is a female official I get even more self-aware/self-conscious, perhaps because I was once accused of ‘being sexist’ and ‘not standing up for the sisterhood’ for criticising a fellow woman, whose poor refereeing marred a game I had covered. The inference that as a woman myself I should have shown sympathy to the woman in black was infuriating at the time, the referee’s sex wasn’t the point I was trying to make in the report it was the fact she had failed to award a clear penalty not some pseudo feminist nonsense. Mark Chapman’s assertion that you always hear ‘and she did well’ coupled with every reference to a female official is spot on, post-Keys and Gray the fear of being seen to criticise has not abated.

Earlier this season the afternoon after I’d attended a Socrates blogger meet-up, I was at Bishops Stortford, covering the game against Gloucester City. Sat in the press seats I was asked to move, ‘because these seats are just for reporters dear’ – the local reporter’s jaw dropped when I explained I was a reporter and he backtracked ‘well, good on you love.’He later asked if I needed help reading the team sheet and proceeded to spend the whole game explaining why rugby was superior to football, strange chap, but he was very much a dinosaur of the past and not the norm. Much like the neat dismissal of the ‘but you’ve never played the game’ argument, the notion of a woman in the press box is no longer a foreign concept in the professional game and its spreading down the leagues too.

But as Kloss pointed out when she described the sinister undertone to some of the behaviour towards women in the game there are a few who still act in a completely inappropriate way. Being asked to move seats is far from the worst treatment I’ve had at games – the most striking incident I can remember was when a player, an unused sub sat in the stand in front of the press box, turned around and showed me an explicit picture of (presumably) himself which he had on his phone, just because he thought it was funny, it was a pretty odd thing to do to a complete stranger and I’d question whether he’d have chosen to do that to a male reporter. Having him and his teammates sat in the stands laughing at me as I tried to concentrate on the game was a pretty humiliating experience.

But like Gabby said, you don’t want to moan because it shows weakness. That said, I’ve seriously considered giving up writing about football in the past year because of comments posted about me online, personal insults similar to those described by several of the women on the documentary, everyone has an achilles heel. Things are changing in non-league football – perhaps not as much as in the professional game but its getting there, look at Manda Rigby at Bath City, Carolyn Still at Mansfield – there are more and more women in the boardrooms (and not just making the matchday cuppas), the press box and the stands.

Then perhaps we should look at the pre-Samantha Brick outpouring when Carolyn Still was announced as CEO of Mansfield Town, it was an opportunity for muck-raking and name calling, just as there was when Jackie Oakley was announced as the first female commentator back in 2007. Heather Rabbatts aside, the FA is still far too male, but as she points out big business is pretty much the same. Positive discrimination, like in Norway, could be one answer but the quota question is a difficult one, it is too much of a token gesture. This is part of the dichotomy – how do you improve female representation at every level of the game without resorting to tokenism? With female participation increasing and women making up an increasing proportion of crowds at home and at the ground it goes without saying that it will increase, it just won’t happen overnight while Sepp and his FIFA gang want us to wear short shorts.

This BBC documentary may not have said anything particularly new to me, it might not stop me being asked to move out of the press seats or stop the odd idiot acting like moron but I have the faint hope it might be shown in years to come to illustrate how archaic the game once was.

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    4 Comments

  1. Great piece Jenni. As much as ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ were (and still are) my fave Sociology topics at Uni, I deliberately avoided the show for two reasons: Firstly, the presenter Gabby Logan. I’ve always found her unexceptional and little more than ‘eye candy’ for what is a predominantly male viewership. In fact I’d suggest her broadcasting career has actually blossomed ‘because’ and not ‘despite’ of sexism in sport, but that’s just my opinion. If the excellent Caroline Barker had fronted that would be different, but she’s not yet been on Strictly Come Dancing so there you go.
    Secondly, like you I thought the question and title was a bit daft. Of course football is sexist. And homophobic. And probably in some quarters still racist (ssshhh!) but are these things actually ‘hate’ or ‘discrimination’, or merely ignorance and stupidity? I’ve been involved with Weymouth FC as a fan, match reporter, forum moderator, supporters trust bod and director, and let’s face face it, football is hardly a breeding ground for the next generation of PhDs.
    Obviously I can’t imagine how I’d feel in the situations you cited but they were certainly very familiar, even as a bloke. But was the player with the not-so-smart phone actually discriminating against women, or just being a young lad with his young mates and the IQ of a potato? Likewise the (mainly older generation) Muff fans who still refer to black away players as ‘the darkie’. Is that actual hatred, discrimination or a rather naïve point of identification in a team of mainly white and unfamiliar players?
    Thanks again for an enjoyable read, for diverting me from what I should be working on, and reminding us of the unfortunate fact that female physios will still be hearing ‘get yer tits out for the boys’ for many years to come no matter how often Gabby Logan does a documentary.

    Connor Kinsella

    April 5, 2012

  2. Thought the issue was worth the time given to it by the documentary although the above article is more informative. This is due to the fact that the prominence given to Logan and Brady in the programme only raises other questions about their position in the game. For example would Gabby Logan be presenting football if her dad hadn’t been an international of some renown (no surprise she revealed she had a good working relationship with Eddie Gray)? Is Karren Brady the right person to speak on behalf of women in football when she earned her first job at Birmingham City due to a successful stint as editor of the Sunday Sport?
    The best bits were the pieces to camera by all the other women, most of whom, like Jenni, I didn’t know beyond a byline in a newspaper. Their stories reflect the socially conservative ethos of many of those with administrative roles in the game who sadly predominate boardrooms across the country.
    One line of enquiry which was not pursued in the TV programme and may have contributed to Jenni’s negative experience with the young player, was the way the game is presented by Sky, in particular the Soccer Am view of the world which as the title of this article unwittingly reflects is one of birds, blokes, beer and banter.

    Steve

    April 6, 2012

  3. Excellent stuff from Jenni, as ever.

    Like the other commenters, I thought the focusing of so much of the show on Gabby Logan and Karren Brady was misguided. I’m not a fan of Logan, as she always comes off as being cold and a little detached. Logan herself has a background of being a former sportsman, as well as having connections to the game through her father (and therefore her introduction into the sport wouldn’t be the norm), and in that respect it would have been better to have heard from someone who had had to start at the bottom and reach the top, without previous connections (Jacqui Oatley?). It was interesting to hear Brady’s views on sexism within the game the first time, and even the second time she spoke about them, but as the highest profile woman within the game, its a subject she gets to speak about regularly, and the time would have been better served showing perspectives from other women in the game.

    I thought the documentary missed some tricks, Vikki Orvice refused to say what the worst thing to have happened to her, but if there is any place to have mention it, this was it. Female officials were glossed over, with just a single reference each to Wendy Toms and Sian Massey. Was there really no female official prepared to speak about the subject? Even a retired one like Toms, or one given anonymity?

    I also though the show represented the fans fairly badly. We only saw the side of fans that chant “Get your tits out”, and not the positive side of the fans, such as the example of AFC Wimbledon’s Dons Trust, where three of the nine elected board members are women. I remember seeing an interview a long time ago with Wendy Toms, not long after she’d reached the Premier League, where she’d said that she didn’t appear to get the same verbal abuse as male officials, as though fans were watching their language because she was a woman. Has the reaction from the terraces towards Toms, Massey, Amy Fearn and the other officials changed now the novelty has worn off?

    I though the talk of FA members was a bit odd too. With Logan suggesting that Brady needed to be asked to join the FA Board, when the existing roles on the FA Board (ie, before the appointment of Rabbatts and Devlin) were all elected representatives of Premier League or Football League clubs That was really poor research, there, with the clues on the website for the shows research team to see, with all previous members having an annotation next to their name to denote their representation. I don’t believe Brady has ever stood for election to either the FA board, or any of the League boards.

    The fact that Logan thinks that Brady being a member of the FA Board, suggests how far removed from the views of fandom she is. When Brady has run clubs, they have had reputations for squeezing every last penny out of fans (when she ran Birmingham City, they were notorious for high prices, initiating an ‘Away membership’ scheme where you had to pay a minimum of £15 for the privilege of buying tickets for away games, and were issuing 2-3 new kits a season at a time when Manchester United were getting pilloried for issuing 3 every two years), not to mention BCFC’s long campaign to try and get Birmingham Council to build them a stadium, under the guise of the centrepoint of a sports village for the city (Olympic Stadium watchers may have noticed a pattern). Brady is an excellent businesswoman, but she’s not exactly a force for good in football.

    The appointment of Rabetts must be seen as positive, but Rabetts herself made it clear very early in her interview that she was mixed race, which gave the impression that she was there to tick boxes. Maybe the show would have been better to have been made after Rabetts had been involved in FA Board meetings . Still, tokenism or not, it’s only taken 149 to get a woman, and someone from the ethnic minorities on the FA Board. All we need now is someone to represent the people that invest most of the money into the game – the fans.

    So, all in all, a disappointing program. One that showed depressing attitudes in the game when the surface was scratched, but not one that went deep enough.

    Rob

    April 9, 2012

  4. As usual, the group who are the least qualified to broach the issue correctly have been the first to comment – men. “I’ve always found her unexceptional and little more than ‘eye candy’ for what is a predominantly male viewership. In fact I’d suggest her broadcasting career has actually blossomed ‘because’ and not ‘despite’ of sexism in sport, but that’s just my opinion.”

    “I thought the documentary missed some tricks, Vikki Orvice refused to say what the worst thing to have happened to her, but if there is any place to have mention it, this was it”.

    “Thought the issue was worth the time given to it…”

    “are these things actually ‘hate’ or ‘discrimination’, or merely ignorance and stupidity?”

    “The fact that Logan thinks that Brady being a member of the FA Board, suggests how far removed from the views of fandom she is”.

    All of this sounds very familiar: entitled appraisals of the programme, what should “really” be covered in these men’s opinions and how it “should” be done, and opining on how women in the game should behave in tackling the issue of misogyny. The fans should be represented “more positively” – to spare anyone’s blushes, presumably. It all smacks of condescension.

    My advice to the commenters above is to learn to check your privalege. To listen, and learn, about the problem, rather than explaining to us how it should be tackled.

    Fran

    October 31, 2012

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