Sexism in football is still there; but we’ve come a long way

Football has had its horns locked in a fierce battle with its sexist prejudices for decades, with the sport keen to be able to tell the world that it does not mind that women want to be involved, nor does it mind that they want their opinions aired. But in the cases of Shelley Kerr and Sarah Winterburn it has highlighted that although sexism cases are less frequent, they are still occurring – but not all females in football experience this negativity, as proved by Irish international Stephanie Roche.

BT Sport presenter Lynsey Hipgrave was lambasted with sexist abuse for expressing her thoughts on a football incident during a La Liga match between Barcelona and Celta Viga in February 2016. She gave her opinion like many other followers of the sport did, but because she was a woman, she was told to “get back in the kitchen” and “make some sandwiches”. The case only managed to highlight the fact that football still has a sexism problem, whether the sport as a whole believes it has moved forward or not, it is still there.

A survey conducted by Women in football indicated that of the 661 women who were interviewed, and were involved in football in roles such as coaching or being a match official, 35% believed they were underpaid in comparison to males conducting a similar job, whilst 28% thought women were unfairly treated in the organisations they worked in.

Shelley Kerr is largely a success story for women in football. She became a pioneer for women in football in August 2014 by becoming the first female in Britain to manage a men’s senior team. Capped 59 times by Scotland during her playing career, she was appointed as the head coach of Stirling University’s football programme, who play their matches in the Scottish Lowland League.

Kerr said she had the utmost respect from her players from day one, which shows the strides that football as a sport has made in exiling sexism, but mentioned that for all of the positives, there have still been the negatives.

“There was a lot of profile around my appointment and I even had some photographers come and ask me if I’d wear high heels for pictures, which was just ridiculous.

“There have been a few occasions where from the touchline there has been sexist chants made, but I have to say it hasn’t been from football supporters, but more so from other sports teams that have been watching at the University. On the whole though, I have to say it’s been very good.”

Football needs more high profile cases where women are accepted and judged on nothing more than the credentials they possess, the way they want their team to play, and not the gender they are, just like Kerr has experienced.

“That was the one area that I would say was extremely positive from the first morning that I was introduced to the guys. The players were very receptive to me as a coach and to my philosophies, so my gender has never been a problem.”

In 2015 the Women’s World Cup took place in Canada, and the hype centred on the English team in this country helped to raise the profile of the ladies’ side of the game. Then, on the back of the World Cup, women’s football took another step forward as FIFA 16 was released with 12 of the women’s national sides included in the game for the first time ever. Although on the larger scheme of things it may not be seen as something that shows victory for the girls and the end to sexism, what it does do is help to show the sport is moving in the right direction.

It’s not uncommon to hear a female voice on match highlights these days, but when Sarah Winterburn first took an interest in reporting on the sport 20 years ago, she was seriously outnumbered in the press boxes at games, and experienced first hand what is frankly frowned upon today.

“In press conferences it was quite common to have managers dismissing questions from women, or answering the question and putting ‘darling’ on the end. But if that happened now it would be on Twitter in five minutes, and there would be an uproar.”

Within five minutes on the phone with the editor of the hugely successful Football365 website, you got a sense of her relief at the way the attitudes towards women have changed since she first started in the industry. But one thing she did stress was that the amount of females taking an interest in reporting on football is still fairly low in comparison to males.

“You get used to there being maybe one other woman there now, but I’m still probably outnumbered by 10/1 at least.”

Sunderland-forward and Irish international Stephanie Roche was in good company at the FIFA Puskas award ceremony in 2014, when she was nominated alongside James Rodriguez and Robin van Persie to have scored one of the top three goals in that year. The 26-year-old even received compliments on her finish at the dinner table from legendary Italian Allesandro Del Piero, who’d “recognised her from the video of the goal.”.

Roche eventually came second, but her experiences at the event prove that sexism is slowly being banished from the association of football.

“In Ireland it was a huge thing, because not only was I the first woman to be nominated for the award, I was the first Irish national to do so, too. I think everybody was proud so that made me proud to represent Ireland and women’s football.”

Roche admits she may be one of the luckier females to play the sport, as she struggled to recollect any negative experiences from her career to date.

“Women are doing a lot of things that they wouldn’t have been doing 30-odd years ago, so it just shows how altered things are now. I’m happy it’s now accepted that women are going to play football, and generally do all the things that men can do.”

After hearing from three credible voices associated with women’s football, it’s easy to see that the positive experiences the ladies are enduring out shadow the negative, misogynistic views of the minority, and that football should be proud that together it is doing a good job of silencing sexism.

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Sexism and racism will never stop Annie Zaidi from achieving her dream

AnnieZ

Women have faced an uphill struggle for decades as they have tried to become a reputable part of the footballing community, but for Annie Zaidi the task plunged into new depths as she struggled to shrug of not only sexism, but Islamophobia too. But any obstacles that step in her way will not stop her from trying to achieve her dream of being the one to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

Opportunities for women with an ethnic background to get involved in football are still at an all-time low, despite racism and sexism being frowned upon in the current day and age. Research from the Fare Network found that of the ‘Elite level clubs’ playing in England, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands, 96.6% of the senior coaches are white men.

Research conducted by Sports Coach UK led them to make the statement that “Female coaches say football can be like an ‘old boys network’ where women have to prove their knowledge in order to gain the respect of male coaches.” Although possibly not true in all cases, Zaidi’s experiences would suggest the research they conduct isn’t far wrong.

Newcastle was the destination where one of her first chances to coach men presented itself. Zaidi was studying at Durham University at the time, and claims the chance was somewhat a baptism of fire into the world of football coaching.

“For four or five weeks they didn’t like it. After the tragedies of 9/11 and 7/7 and because I was wearing a headscarf I was a more visible Muslim. I had to gain their respect rather than them just respecting me straight away.

“I came away from tackles with broken ribs and swollen ankles, and it was just a nightmare. Because I’m a feisty one the more I fell down the harder I got back up, and eventually that gained their respect.” She mentioned.

Taking those hits was all worth it in the end, and she believes the wider effect that her ability to get back up after being knocked down showed will have helped to educate those players in Newcastle to appreciate her as a coach for her ability, rather than her sex or race.

“Eventually I realised that football was just not a game. It was breaking down social barriers and creating communication.

“They won’t see a Muslim woman in a headscarf and automatically think she is a terrorist like they might have. They will appreciate women coaches now too.” She claimed.

Her love for the sport stems from being a younger sister to two keen football enthusiast brothers, who gave her little choice but to take up the sport so she could remain involved with her siblings. But despite beginning to love the sport, her opportunities to take it further back then were lacking.

“Me being me I had to fit in and I had to join in with the lads. It was a hobby that I loved but sadly there weren’t really any opportunities for girls to play back then, especially for a girl with a different coloured skin.

“It was a bit like me against the world. I’m a bit of a feisty one and I’d always say that they could take my bib and my ball away from me, but one thing they could never take away is my passion. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’ll do it anyway to prove them wrong.” She stated.

Zaidi was awarded the Helen Rollason Award for inspiration at the Sky Sports Sportswomen of the year awards in 2015, and received plaudits from high-profile male figures in the sport at the ceremony such as David Beckham, Les Ferdinand and Chris Ramsey.

“I was taken aback by the comments that Sir Les Ferdinand and Chris Ramsey said about me. I think their words were more overwhelming and heart-warming than the award itself.

“My Grandfather since the award has promoted me to being his favourite Grandchild of the 10 he has got, because back in Pakistan everyone knows about David Beckham. I’d love to know why I wasn’t already his favourite, but that’s another story.” She joked.

The ambitious coach has already gone a long way to achieving her ultimate goal of coaching at the top level in the men’s game, and currently coaches the under-11 girls at Leicester City’s academy, something she describes as her “proudest moment to date”.

Although happy with her current lifestyle, Zaidi like anyone aspires to become bigger and better than she is now, and hopes her determination and grit will get her to that destination.

“My ultimate goal is to get my A license and get a job full time in the men’s game. Arsenal is my dream though.

“This season I’ve got more trophies for being a good coach than Arsene Wenger has, so why not. I’d love to meet him and talk to him and pick at his brain though.” She concluded.

Arsenal’s senior side is the dream, but for Zaidi to have an impact at a professional level in the men’s game would almost certainly show the footballing world that sex or race are not an obstacle if your passion is football.