How do we combat sexism in football?

West Ham's Karen Brady ahs led the way for women off the pitch

In recent years, women have started to have more and more of a substantial role in football. Karen Brady has led the way off the pitch, currently as vice-chairman of West Ham United Football Club and previously as CEO of Birmingham City Football Club. On the pitch, Wendy Toms was the first ever female assistant referee, officiating in the football league as early as 1994.

So why when women have been a part of men’s football for so long is there still sexism in our game?

During the Wolves vs Liverpool game on Saturday 22nd June, this prejudice was exemplified by two of the biggest names in the football media. Female assistant referee Sian Massey was the subject of an off-air discussion between Sky presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray. The two agreed that “women didn’t know the offside rule” and “someone should get down there and explain offside to her”. These comments have been condemned by the football community, and the two were suspended from the following Monday game.

On the Tuesday after, it was revealed it wasn’t the first time Andy Gray had uttered sexist comments. A recording between him and Sky’s pitch-side reporter Andy Burton revealed they had discussed Massey’s appearance, and Gray again saying “what do women know about the offside rule?” With this new evidence coming to light, the Scotsman has had his contract terminated from Sky “in response to new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour,” and rightly so, with the other perpetrators, Keys and Burton, being disciplined over their comments.

I believe Sky have made the right decision in sacking Andy Gray. Yes his comments were off-air but a person with his standing within the game cannot have those sorts of views, and those are views that he expressed to both Keys and Burton in separate discussions.

Richard Keys has personally apologised to Sian Massey for his part in the discussion, with her accepting the apology but saying she has been “hurt” by the comments. But surely this sort of talk cannot continue? Saying that Massey doesn’t know the offside rule when she is a qualified football league referee completely undermines her, and is surely an opinion the Football Association want to eradicate from the English game. Massey has passed all the exams and assessments to become a referee, the same tests that all the Male referees in the football league had to pass, so if the assessors feel she has the ability to officiate in the Premier League, the best league in the World, then who are Keys and Gray to argue?

Some people have told me their reactions when they saw Massey before the game began was “why is there a woman officiating a Premier League match?” But if an individual  has the qualifications and is deemed by experts as good enough to officiate at Premier League level surely gender shouldn’t come in to it.

During the game Massey’s performance was near faultless, making a difficult call for Liverpool’s first goal when Raul Meireles was played through and was being played onside by Wolves right-back Ronald Zubar. With the Wolves defence standing with arms aloft, Meireles found Fernando Torres who had an easy finish. The wrong decision from Massey there and who knows what the outcome of the game may have been, but she got the call right and the rest is history.

So how do footballs World body, FIFA, and England’s football governing body, the FA, stop sexism in football? And are they trying too?

FIFA president of Sepp Blatter has caused controversy in the past when he declared that women footballers should “play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.”

Blatter also said: “Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball.”

How can women hope to be treated as equals in football when the most powerful man in the game is making such degrading comments? It gives them no chance, and did he get reprimanded for these comments? No. FIFA need to be backing women players and officials to try and get more interest in the game, not making sexist comments which are only going to have a negative impact.

So what is England’s governing body, the FA doing to combat sexism in football? Well in response to the comments by Gray and Keys, the FA released a statement saying it had made “real strides in encouraging both male and female match officials to enter the game at every level, and will continue to offer every encouragement to all officials within the football family to progress to the highest levels possible”.

“We are proud to have some of the world’s best match officials, both male and female. Overall the number of female referees in England (Levels 1-8) stands at 853 and climbing, and all our female match officials act as fantastic ambassadors for the game. They have our wholehearted and continuing support.”

But do they back up this claim? Well in 2007, the then Luton Town boss Mike Newell was fined £6,500 for his comments about assistant referee Amy Rayner. He said “This is Championship football, not park football, so what are women doing here? She should not be here, I know that sounds sexist, but I am sexist.”

To only get fined £6,500 for such sexist comments, where he even admits he is sexist, is a joke, and the FA should have punished him a lot further than just a small fine.

As far as I am concerned the problem stems from the top and unless the likes of FIFA and the FA get tough on sexism in football, then I’m afraid it is going to be a long-term problem, no matter how good the female officials are at their job.

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About rswoodcock1
I have just graduated from the University of Central Lancashire where I studied Sports Journalism.

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