By Issy McConville
The other night, I watched the football. My dad watched the football, my mum watched the football, 13 million other people watched the football. 13 million tears ran down 13 million faces as England’s World Cup hopes were kicked into the dust by the boot of Luis Suarez. Yes, love it or hate it, World Cup fever has truly set in. Giant England flags adorn houses across the country; ‘Fantasy Football Leagues’ have become the new ‘Doing My Work at the Office’; and every-man and his dog are flogging some kind of tenuously World Cup themed gear – Pot Noodle anyone? It’s exciting, it’s unifying, we all flock to the pub for matches of countries we couldn’t even point to on a map. To borrow from the lyrical immortality of The Farm, we are ‘all together now’ – one big football shaped earth united for four weeks in our love of the beautiful game.
But are we? While I was watching the England v. Uruguay match, I couldn’t help but notice that there were no female commentators during the ITV coverage. Again, during the BBC coverage of the England v. Italy game, there were no female commentators. Two major British channels, two matches with an enormous audience – and no women. I don’t think it’s too radical to suggest the line-up could have included a female voice – women watch football, women play football, women are just as qualified to talk about it. Undeniably there are some hugely respected female names in sports presenting – look at Gabby Logan, or Clare Balding – and yet female voices were excluded from the biggest sporting event in the world.
In reality, women fail to be supported at all levels of the game. The English team in the Women’s World Cup are currently at the top of their group in the qualifying stages, but this has hardly received coverage. Earlier this year, leaked emails from Premier League chief Richard Scudamore, in which he refers to women as ‘gash’, revealed sexism at the heart of the industry. As children we’re told that football is a boy’s game, and it is often not offered to girls at school. A friend of mine, Jess, is a qualified coach and plays women’s football. She’s a really good player, but says she’s always told ‘you’re good…for a girl’. Why must her gender determine her ability as a player? Why is female interest in football so often seen as an oddity, an exception to the norm? Last week my driving teacher told me that ‘about 90% of women who go to matches only go to look at the fit men’. I almost jumped out of the moving car on an A- road. Yes, I cannot deny that I have enjoyed the presence of Thierry Henry and his cardigans during BBC coverage. But this isn’t the reason I’m watching. In fact, if eyeing up the players was your aim, you’d be left highly unsatisfied, as for the majority of a match you can only see small blobs running around the pitch.
These attitudes are undermining women’s enjoyment of, and involvement in, football, and they need to change. We need to celebrate women’s football, and encourage girls to play it at school. And this needs to start from the very top. By including female panellists at major matches, television companies can really lead by example; taking a simple step towards recognising and valuing women as equals in the football industry. This is not a journey that can be completed in 90 minutes, but we can at least take a step towards the goal.