Friday, 5 June 2015

BBC Sport panel discussion...

...encouraging more women to get involved in football.

On Wednesday 3rd June, Jacqui Oatley held a panel discussion at the National Football Museum, Manchester. Guests included: Anna Kessel (Guardian Sports Writer), Liz Ellen (Head of Sports Law), Justine Mitchell (Dundee United Director), Rachel Brown-Finnis (Ex-England Goalkeeper), Katie Brazier (FA Head of Women's Leagues), and Sylvia Gore (Ex-England International).

Oatley began the discussion around the recent FIFA headline, with President Sepp Blatter confirming his resignation on Tuesday. The self-proclaimed "Godfather of women's football" could not have picked a better week to steal the headlines away from the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. In the same week, the Football Association's only female board member, Heather Rabbatts, has withdrawn from her position on FIFA's anti-racism and discrimination taskforce. Rabbatts stated: 

"Like many in the game, I find it unacceptable that so little has been done to reform FIFA..........My commitment to challenging discrimination across the game remains undiminished and I will continue to work with the FA and other international partners on this fundamental issue in our game."

If the world governing body of football are not doing enough to enforce changes and lead by example in tackling discrimination, then the organisations, leagues and clubs underneath them will get away with having a similar attitude. This eventually filters through down to the grassroots level and continues to be an ongoing, unsolved issue.

Rachel Brown-Finnis discussed with the panel the need for more education in order to make a change into people's attitudes toward discrimination in the game: "A lot of people working in football at higher board levels, are of a more advanced age, been in the same role or club for many years and are typically male. Discrimination seems to be rooted into clubs and appears to be a generational thing, which doesn't excuse their behaviour, but there has clearly been a lack of education over the years about the changes in football and in society." 

A new problem word in modern football seems to be "banter". A word that has almost excused this old fashioned approach and behaviour in regards to discrimination across the game. Anna Kessel, Co-Founder of Women In Football, said: "Everyone likes a laugh and a joke and I think most women who go into the football industry like that too and enjoy that environment and special team atmosphere. But it's when that banter is translating into barriers in your career, threatening your career progression and affecting your ability to do your job, that's when it's an issue."

Kessel also spoke about WIF's recent campaign which revealed that 61 reports of sexism in the football workplace were recorded in the last year. 23% of these were matchday incidents and 20% were in the actual workplace. Reports included that of the abuse directed towards Chelsea FC Doctor-Eva Carneiro. 

At least twice this season, video footage and news reports have indicated the astonishing levels of sexist abuse aimed at Carneiro. As Kessel rightly pointed out, Eva Carneiro is a fully qualified member of the Chelsea medical team and this type of abuse would be unacceptable and rare in a hospital or a surgery environment, yet in the world of football, it seems to be shrugged off as 'banter'.

Janie Frampton, owner of Sports Officials Consultancy Ltd, was also present in the audience at the panel discussion. Frampton has been an active referee for 26 years and was the former head of referee development. She explained the barriers women face when starting out in the football industry: 

"Do women come into football feeling safe, knowing that if an issue arose, they know it will be dealt with? Well, not really, not until recently. If you love football, you come into it knowing it is going to be tough, but don't let them beat you."  She later added: "The types of chants I use to hear were deemed OK, but it's not OK if you're the one on the receiving end. Banter stops when it becomes offensive. And until we get more women in the decision making roles, where other women will feel safer to report any barriers, then that will be the difficulty with trying to move on."

Alongside creating a safe and welcoming culture, football needs clearer pathways for women. Oatley spoke of her own personal difficulties getting involved in football and how there was never a clear route or anybody to guide her. Dundee United Director, Justine Mitchell, said that like most businesses, it's hard for women to get onto boards. Speaking from her own experience, she suggested that education needs to start young, to try and get girls interested in football, playing at an early age and developing a passion for the sport or a local club. Mitchell proposed that clubs could create more volunteer roles and community schemes to get women involved, so that the can learn that there are lots of different positions available in the industry. Mitchell later said: "We don't push ourselves enough and we are too content. People like ourselves here today should be acting as ambassadors, making and grabbing the opportunities, letting women know they can get to this level."
justice gets

Troy Townsend, Education and Development Manager at Kick It Out, ran six regional events in 2012 across the country, with only 9% of the participants being female. Speaking from the audience, he told the panel: "I was shocked as I have never really seen the divide before, I've always looked at the game as equal."  As a result, KIO formed a 'Raise Your Game' event, solely for women in football, being mentored by other women. The first of which was held at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium in 2014 and the second was held this year at West Ham's Upton Park. Townsend explained: "Young women trying to get into the industry find it difficult and don't know who to turn to or seek the right kind of advice to help them on the ladder. Everyone needs a helping hand and the right kind of role models."

Overall, the panel discussion highlighted some key improvements needed across the football industry. The main area certainly is to educate, not only young children coming into the game, but also the people already involved, from the highest ranks filtering down. This is not only limited to sexist abuse, but to all forms of abuse. Society is already proving that the outdated behaviour and criminal actions of people like Sepp Blatter, can only go unnoticed for so long, until justice gets served. Football is the world's biggest sport and impacts millions of people every day. With the right role models and structures in place, football has the power to make a difference in people's lives for good.

With the Canada 2015 looking to be the biggest and most record breaking Women's World Cup to date, women's football is rapidly becoming more globally recognised and participation levels are continuously increasing. The future certainly is bright!

(The full BBC 5Live podcast can be found here)