Many people may have been under the illusion that sexism was no longer present in football until Richard Keys and Andy Gray faced disciplinary action over their comments about female referee’s assistant Sian Massey. The fact that influential figures still harbour sexist views sends a clear message that sexism still exists in British football.
It is perfectly reasonable to argue that the existence of sexism affects the quality and success of the female game. The United States women’s national soccer team won the first ever Women’s World Cup in 1991 and has dominated in women’s international soccer ever since. The team is currently number one in the world according to the FIFA Women’s World Rankings and has won three Olympic Women’s Gold Medals. There is an enthusiasm amongst girls in the U.S for soccer along with a level of support that facilitates progress and promotes the emergence of talent. No doubt the success of the national team has a lot to do with this. The team is an inspiration to many girls across the country and positive attitudes abound in education and amongst parents. The view that it is important to promote the equal rights of girls to participate in a range of sports allows them to succeed in football and other sports. In addition to this, a combination of support and financial investment enables American girls to see soccer as a sport that is equally as open to them to pursue as a hobby and as a career as it is to boys. In contrast, in the U.K. there is a lack of interest in football amongst girls, sexist attitudes and unsurprisingly, as a result, limited talent being produced.
Despite the increased interest in female football internationally, there are sexist attitudes in the U.K. that contribute to a limited number of girls playing football and taking it seriously. It stands to reason that the fewer girls there are playing the game the less talent there will be developing in the women’s game. Whilst this situation continues in the U.K., finding the type of talent required to compete with the likes of the U.S is going to be a challenge to say the least.
Women’s football had a blaze of glory in the U.K. in the early 1920’s when some matches achieved over 50,000 spectators. However, this was soon stopped when England’s Football Association voted to ban the game from grounds used by its member clubs in December 1921. The ban was canceled in July 1971 but not before enough time had passed to send home the message that girls playing football would not to be taken seriously by the British. Certainly the children growing up during this period would have been given a loud and clear message about football. Many of the boys will have gone on to have an influence in the game later in life as officials, coaches and players. People growing up in that era have become parents and spread narrow minded ideas about football to subsequent generations.
In contrast, in the USA, women’s soccer is taken seriously. It has a significant following and is growing with money consistently being invested at collegiate and pro levels. This has surely led to the development and progression needed to produce a quality team. Whilst having some talented players and qualifying for three World Cups, so far the England women’s side’s most impressive achievement to date was reaching the European Championships final and losing 6–2 to Germany. Whilst not down playing the achievements of the women who play football in the U.K., it has to be said that they pale into insignificance in comparison to the U.S. ladies.
This is certainly connected to the sexist attitudes that permeate the culture where women’s football in concerned. As we know in order to nurture any kind of talent support, belief and investment are needed. The existence of sexist attitudes in football in the U.K. demonstrate a lack of belief and affect the support and the money invested in women’s football at all levels. This is having an impact on the success of women’s football and the ability of the country to produce considerable amounts of talent on a consistent enough basis to compete on the international field.