Tackling sexism in football

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Sexism in football? Perish the thought. Whilst the sport's male-orientated environment has arguably shown some signs of change in recent years, our nation's favourite pastime is still littered with stories of women being patronised, taunted and harassed, as BBC One's documentary, aired last night, proved.

Presented by Gabby Logan - herself a victim of discrimination in sport as she worked her way up the media ladder - the programme attempted to shed more light on an age-old problem that still runs through today's game, with the help of a number of high profile women, including West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady, Football Association director Heather Rabbatts, and UEFA committee member Karen Espelund.

The issue was thrust into the media spotlight a year ago, when former Sky Sports presenting duo Richard Keys and Andy Gray lost their jobs after being filmed making sexist remarks off-air. The duo now work together on talkSPORT's radio show 'Keys & Gray'. Visually removed from the public eye, but still employed on the airwaves.

There is an argument that suggests the story of Keys and Gray, and more specifically their well publicised fall from grace, is an ironic juxtaposition to the bone of contention that is sexism in football. Whilst they are gone but not forgotten, the subject under scrutiny still remains, but little is being done to tackle the problem head-on.

Speaking in the documentary, Brady - who became the first female managing director of an English Football League club, when she took charge at Birmingham City 19 years ago, at the age of 23 - said sexism is one of the hardest things to change in any organisation.

"It really comes down to culture," she explained. "It only comes from change right at the very top where people really fundamentally, honestly and passionately believe that things need to be changed - not just what do we look like."

Rabbatts added: "It is a man's game but in terms of what goes on around the support of those players, can it be more diverse and inclusive? Yes it can.

"We've moved a long way from those few lone black players in terms of the diversity of race we see on the pitch, which I think is absolutely brilliant.

"Now can we get some diversity around what happens in football which particularly includes and represents women?"

The issue has not been entirely neglected, and there are some examples of progression. The introduction of a growing number of female assistant referees employed by the FA, including Sian Massey, while the aforementioned Espelund is now considered one of the most powerful women in world football following the Norwegian's appointment to UEFAs committee.

"I have a bet going with a friend that there will be a female Premier League manager within 10 years," former Fulham, Northern Ireland and current Barnet boss Lawrie Sanchez told the documentary. "Because whatever is said at the top level, we're in an entertainment business.

"Whether (it is) because she's the best person out there or because of the commercial aspect that comes with it, the reason will be that it is the best situation for the club. Someone, somewhere, will appoint a female manager."

England manager Hope Powell says there are several women who have the coaching qualifications to take charge of a men's Premier League team.

"There are more and more females with the credentials," she told the BBC. "I have a pro licence and there are several other women around the world who have pro licences.

"The priority is about the football and the coaching. But the challenge would be, if a female is appointed at the highest level, how the media take that.

"If that female isn't successful then would it be 'see we told you - she couldn't do it'? Or if she was successful would she get too much media attention that would be too much to bear?"

Powell - who is set to lead Great Britain's women's Olympic team at London 2012 - fully expects the first female appointed as a league boss to be hampered by intense media scrutiny, but is adamant that it won't put her off the opportunity to do so.


"I've always said if a career opportunity presents itself I'd be foolish not to look at it. If I was in marketing I'd do the same; if I was in commercial I'd do exactly the same - so why wouldn't I do the same in football?"

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