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Old 02-04-2012, 08:20 PM
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Default Gaby Logan wants to end the sexism that still festers in football | Anna Kessel


A BBC documentary reveals the discrimination and abuse preventing women in football from doing their jobs

It was just over a year ago when, for a few days at least, English football came to a juddering halt. It was Richard Keys' and Andy Gray's fault their off-air comments about the lineswoman Sian Massey leading the rest of the world to a nasty discovery about our game: Football is rife with sexism. Who knew? Well, every woman in the industry for a start.

And so begins a new BBC documentary, fronted by Gabby Logan, titled "Sexism in Football?" It need not have bothered with the question mark. The film follows Logan as she speaks to some of the most influential women in the game from West Ham's vice chair, Karren Brady, and the FA's first female board member, Heather Rabbatts, to Uefa's first female board member, Karen Espelund. Many of Logan's interviewees, even those who have spent more than two decades in the industry, say they still face sexist comments and discrimination.

While football has spent millions of pounds on campaigns to stamp out racism and homophobia from the game, sexism continues to be tolerated whether that means thousands of fans chanting "s***" at a TV reporter during a live televised game, female employees being barred from meetings and press briefings or the nation being up in arms at the appointment of a woman to do a "man's job".

Such was the experience of Jacqui Oatley, who made headlines after it was announced she would become the first woman to commentate on Match of the Day, in 2007. Despite years of experience in radio commentary Oatley's suitability for the job was questioned even within the Guardian's sports section.

In the week that news of her appointment was leaked to the press Oatley was the subject of nationwide debate and gruesome tabloid tactics, her family home doorstepped by journalists in the build-up to the game. As fellow MOTD commentator Jonathan Pearce says, "It was unfair coverage, the sort of coverage that wouldn't be given to a male commentator coming to Match of the Day for the first time."

"They thought there was a shelf with a load of blonde dolly birds on it," says Oatley with a smile, "and they plucked me off and plonked me into the commentary box I think some people genuinely thought that."

Oatley's sense of humour typifies the response of many women in the game. In a lovely exchange between Brady and Logan, the former managing director of Birmingham City remembers being at a match with her grandmother when the crowd were shouting abuse. "They were shouting 'Karren Brady's a w****,'" says Brady. "I said, 'They're saying I'm twenty-FOUR, nan.'" "Sounds like my nan," says Logan with a wry smile. "At one match she couldn't understand why the crowd wanted me to show them my teeth."

The film brilliantly captures a typical woman in football "WiF" moment when Jackie Bass, regional clubs partnerships manager for the Football League, pulls into Barnet's car park to a torrent of abuse. "She can't f***ing park!" a group of players shout. "Welcome to my world," says Bass, deadpan.

I have shared many such moments with Bass and other women in the game out and about at football matches, doing our jobs. Usually we laugh, because the majority of comments from being mistaken for the club tea lady or a WAG are too silly to get upset about.

Where it is hard to laugh, and Bass testifies to this in the film, is when the prejudice actively prevents a person from doing her job. It makes for disturbing viewing as she reels off a list of episodes that have affected her career and her confidence being banned from press briefings or the tunnel simply because she is a woman.

As a former press officer for both QPR and Watford, Bass campaigned for the Football League rules to be changed and Barnsley were forced to remove a sign from their tunnel which read: "No women beyond this point". Manchester City's chief communications officer, Vicky Kloss, was infamously barred from the tunnel at Notts County for being a woman days after the Keys and Gray incident.

The documentary covers much ground, but in resorting to using an actress to tell one particular story reveals just how sensitive this material remains. As Bass says, "If you heard some of the stories that could have been told, I think it would shock a lot of people."

Through the WiF network, founded in 2007, we have heard many disturbing tales which include sexual and physical harassment. The same type of incidents seem to resurface over and again. Women who have been grabbed by the neck, stalked, harassed on their phones or been told that they have to sleep with the man in question if they wish to continue going about their everyday jobs. The perpetrators are often high-profile star players, top managers, well-known TV pundits all safe in the knowledge that their behaviour will never be reported. "Who wants to be the whistleblower?" asks Bass. There have been women who have attempted it but most have gone quietly, paid to keep silent or threatened with having their names and reputations dragged through the newspapers.

Logan's film takes us on a touching personal journey from TV stalwart, 18 years in the game, hardened to being asked by Premier League managers how many footballers she had slept with, to deciding that a change must be made. "I decided this should not just be a programme that reflected a problem but it should try and encourage a change," she says. "And suddenly I felt a great sense of relief."

Change is most powerful when it occurs at the very top so news of a tweet from Fifa head Sepp Blatter is most encouraging. On Friday Blatter wrote: "Football is for men and women. Vital to have a female voice on the Committee". Fifa, of course, do not have a female voice on their committee. It seems his was a timely note to self to get a woman in. Don't go getting too excited though it's just the one, mind.

"Sexism in football?" BBC1, Wednesday 4 April, 10.45pm


Anna Kessel

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