Isra Gabal - 'One giant leap for women’s football, one small step for society'
In the first of a series of exclusive articles written by the ‘Fans For Diversity’ journalists, Isra Gabal reflects on the Women’s World Cup held in Canada earlier this year and its potential impact on the women’s game in England.
For those who scoffed at the thought of a Women’s World Cup, I hope you ate your words after the Lionesses did the country extremely proud in Canada during this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Yes we might have came third thanks to an unfortunate own goal, but wasn’t it tremendous that we even made it that far?
With hardly any expectations of progression from the nation at the beginning of the World Cup, one of the only aims for the team was to stir passion in a similar way to the London 2012 Olympics and to get more women and girls involved in playing football.
The welcome home the team got after their early-morning arrival at Heathrow Airport on 6 July shows us that, in the short-term at least, their aim has been achieved.
However, anyone with an active Twitter account would be able to tell you that among the excited and avid supporters, the sexist commentators were lurking around every corner.
Although this Women’s World Cup gained arguably the most amount of coverage out of any previous tournament, the reality of those tweets is what leads me to my disappointing verdict – I do believe the Women’s World Cup has sparked more interest in women’s football, but unfortunately, it’s not an interest that’ll last.
Call me cynical (although I’d rather you called me realistic), but my view stems from the fact people who were tweeting in support of the women’s team were doing so in a derogatory manner. Many saw the women’s success as a chance to mock the male team, “even women are doing better than you – you lot must be AWFUL” and many saw it as completely fine to tweet “supportive” things in a discriminatory manner.
Granted, it wasn’t absolutely everyone who pushed the boundaries of decency and taste like that but even the few that did indicated that women’s football in England still isn’t taken seriously. Our amazing team was pegged as doing well “for a bunch of women”, rather than people recognising they’re doing well as a group of hardworking and committed athletes.
When was the last time you read a serious match report that mentioned a male player being “easy on the eyes”? I read at least three during the World Cup that mentioned the players’ looks along side their performance, as if to suggest you should watch the World Cup to catch sight of beautiful women, rather than to watch an enthralling game of football.
A credible sports journalist wouldn’t in their wildest dreams reference a woman’s looks during match reporting because they realise that the individual’s skill on the pitch has no correlation with how good-looking they are. Unfortunately when it’s the Women’s World Cup that piece of common sense seems to go out of the window.
Irresponsible journalism, like that published on Saturday 27 June in the Daily Mirror, is paving the way for the next wave of sexists who think being a woman makes you worth less. Those journalist’s own daughters, nieces and loved ones will have to deal with further sexism because their generation brought up young males to think it’s hilarious and acceptable to belittle women and to play down their accomplishments.
Journalists, and news outlets alike, have a responsibility to promote women’s football in a positive manner, in a bid to push it to the forefront of society’s consciousness and to start the conversation about equality and inclusivity.
As Moya Dodd, FIFA Executive Committee co-opted member and chair of the Task Force for Women’s Football, put it: “Football does not exist in a vacuum. Our experiences in football mirror our experiences in the world. And we live in a world where women are systemically disadvantaged.”
Therefore I sadly don’t believe women’s football will gain the respect it deserves until society as a whole address the issue of inequality towards women.
I’d like this article to serve as a gentle reminder that using misogynistic and degrading terms in a bid to seem funny leaves you looking anything but. What our female players did out there in Canada deserves the utmost respect. So the next time you would like to question a woman’s ability to play football, ask yourself could you have played as fearlessly and as passionately as our glorious national team?