On the back foot – is women’s football taken seriously?

By Melissa King

Freya Bernard

For decades women have been on the back foot compared to men in football. Women feel that sexism is still apparent in society today, especially in relation to a typical ‘male dominated’ sport, such as football, cricket and rugby union.

Speaking with a female footballer showed that misogynistic comments are said about, and to them, despite encouraging efforts from governing bodies to tackle the issue, which is slowly improving the prejudice in traditionally ‘male’ dominated sports.

Freya Barnard, Chelmsford City ladies’ left back believes that sport in general has grown for women, showing positive signs against the battle of chauvinism against women’s sports. “Women’s football is taken more seriously now than before. I think the success of England Ladies teams has helped. Most professional men’s teams now acknowledge the ladies teams more in their media. More national and league games are televised and get more publicity now, too.” Women’s sports are now taken more seriously than previously, due to the success of the England women’s football, cricket and rugby union teams.

Data released in 2014/2015 by ‘Kick it Out’, an organisation which campaigns for equality in football, revealed that there is a 269% increase in women coming forward and reporting incidents of discrimination in the footballing work place. This is due to high profile cases being reported by the media.

Match official, Sian Massey-Ellis, for example, experienced sexist remarks during the Wolves and Liverpool game in January 2011. Richard Keys said to Andy Gray “somebody better get down there and explain the offside rule to her.” Gray replied “Can you believe that? A female linesman. That’s exactly why I was saying women don’t know the offside rule.” Gray and Keys were subsequently released by Sky over these sexist remarks.

Former Chelsea FC doctor, Eva Carneiro, claimed for constructive dismissal against the club, after her release in 2015. This stemmed from Carneiro entering the pitch to treat injured Chelsea player, Eden Hazard – ignoring Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho’s orders. Furious, Mourinho slated her actions, claiming the medical staff had been “impulsive and naïve,” and “did not understand the game.” Mourinho reportedly called Carneiro in Portuguese, a “daughter of a whore.” Carneiro subsequently left Chelsea, and won the constructive dismissal case.

Joy Neville, however, made history by becoming the first female referee to officiate an international men’s rugby match – Norway and Denmark. These are examples that attitudes of women playing ‘masculine sports’ are changing. Women are now speaking out about their experiences of sexism, and more is being done to combat the issue; leading to more females in higher positions in areas such as refereeing.

Barnard, who is also an avid cricketer, commented “I’ve experienced sexism in football a couple of times. Mainly, its someone telling me that women should play female sports, like netball – not male sports like football, rugby and cricket. Some people will always have a problem with women’s sport.”

According to a 2016 study conducted by ‘Women in Football’, which surveyed 661 women coaches, administrators, and match officials, 66% of women experienced sexism, with 89% of women not reporting the issue, as they believed it wouldn’t be taken seriously. 35% of the 661 women interviewed within the sport said they were not paid equally compared with men performing a similar role, and 28% said female employees were unfairly treated.

Although sexism within sport is slowly eroding, some women, including Freya Barnard, still believes it is still occurring. Organisations such as Kick it Out, and Women in Football are campaigning for minorities in sports, which shows a slow transformation of attitudes.

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