Football still offside in attitude to women
The British media furore over two television presenters’ sexist comments over a lineswoman at a Premier League match at the weekend has thrown the spotlight on the subject of women in soccer – be it on the pitch or off.
Sky Sports duo Richard Keys and Andy Gray have apologised for saying female officials “don’t know the offside rule” when they were talking about lineswoman Sian Massey at Saturday’s match between Wolves and Liverpool when they thought their microphones were switched off.
She in fact made the correct call on a big borderline decision that allowed a Liverpool goal to count.
Even if she hadn’t, it wouldn’t be because she was female – or is someone going to tell me it was a woman who missed Frank Lampard’s “goal” that clearly crossed the line but was not given in the England v Germany match at last year’s World Cup?
The notion you need testicles to get your mind around the offside rule is sadly not restricted to Massey’s case, as female soccer reporters like me find out from time to time, even though things have of course improved over the years.
I have yet to be asked to explain the offside rule – although I am quite excited about the prospect I might be. One of my friends, a football reporter on a British national newspaper, was asked a couple of years ago by a Premier League manager at an awards ceremony to do just that.
She actually went along with his request but to this day regrets not thinking of a comeback along the lines of “You don’t understand the offside rule? No wonder your team keep losing!” I have plenty of ripostes up my sleeve for the poor person who tries to ask me.
I have been asked by security staff if I am autograph hunting when I am trying to get into a press conference or if I am there to make the tea once I do get in. Since those things have happened in the last five years, I can only imagine just how bad it was for female football reporters 30 years ago.
The rare moments when you are able to get your own back are pretty special. At the 2006 World Cup I sat in what can best be described as a shack crammed full of mostly male reporters who were waiting for a press conference with the Ukraine coach as his team had unexpectedly made the quarter-finals.
It was a makeshift set-up and as such they didn’t bother to provide a translator. Cue dozens of angry men with empty notebooks. Hah! I thought, I may be a blonde airhead who some of you might think doesn’t have a clue about football, but I do speak Russian and I have got all the quotes.
Unfortunately, some women do not help in our quest to be taken seriously.
I have blogged before about the techniques some media use in mixed zones, where they plant an attractive woman wearing a skirt and heels in the field of vision of the footballers as they walk through.
Unsurprisingly the players clock the glamorous woman among the masses of slightly dishevelled men and stop to speak to her.
One of my colleagues was one of only two females in one mixed zone, the other was apparently a former beauty queen, behind whom a small man with a microphone lurked ready to pounce with the ‘intelligent’ questions.
I mean, what chance has either a normally dressed man or woman got against that? She is fulfilling every stereotype about only being in the job because of her looks and not knowing anything about football.
While there is no doubt attitudes have changed, with more than 850 women qualified as referees in England as well as females in top soccer jobs such as West Ham United vice-chairman Karren Brady and Blackburn Rovers chairman Anuradha Desai, as well as top female TV presenters and writers, the Keys/Gray saga shows sexism has not been eradicated.
It is not just in football, though.
Three years ago I went with one of my male colleagues to cover a Six Nations rugby match at Twickenham where I was asked by a press officer if I was my colleague’s wife –e ffectively there to enjoy a meal while hubby did his Very Important Job That Women Don’t Do.
After the match I was on the bus home and the man sitting next to me asked me if I had been to the match. I told him I had been working there and he said “Which bar were you serving at?”
If only I had been at a bar, I’d have poured a pint over him. Taking care not to break a nail, obviously.
PHOTO: Assistant referee Sian Massey runs during during the English Premier League soccer match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool at Molineux in Wolverhampton, central England on January 22, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Staples