Scanning my facebook newsfeed this morning, I came across a story that today will be the first time that a female commentator will cover a match live on television in Germany’s Bundesliga. As a step forward, this is to be welcomed by one and all for whom the standard, reactionary, position the sporting media adopts towards women covering a man’s game.To anyone but the most knuckle-dragging idiots, this really doesn’t mean a lot. Which is not the same as saying it isn’t a meaningful moment. Because it is. But anyone with even a hint of common sense, and a love of football, can see this as a good thing. After all, the sight of a woman taking on assistant referee duties hardly encourages a murmur these days when I’m at League of Ireland games. But that’s officials. Journalism is a different matter. Way back in September 2006, when the Sports Journalist’s Association conducted a survey, it found that less than 10% of sports journalists in the UK were women. Odette Butson, writing for the SJA website noted that
At this year’s football World Cup, there was a solitary woman journalist accredited to write for a British paper. Yet according to the BBC, 50 per cent of its audience for the matches was female.
Then in 2007, Jacqui Oatley made history all her own when she was the first female commentator to offer her thoughts up on the Match of the Day. It was met with a predictable barrage of abuse from some certifiable clowns, and caused one blogger on The F Word to ask
Why is this? Why is sexism so rife and, in some ways, accepted in the world of football and sport in general? And could it be avoided if there were more women involved in the sports production industry? However, if involving more women was the solution, it wouldn’t be an easy one. Recent events concerning Oatley caused me to think back to an essay I wrote recently on the under-representation of women in sports journalism.
The statistics I discovered were predictable; a survey carried out in August 2005 showed out of 160 journalists writing for the sports pages, only fourteen were female.
My research also showed that attitudes haven’t changed. Lynne Truss, a former football columnist for The Times, claimed that older, male journalists took the attitude that “women cannot write about football, simply because they don’t play it”. Truss sarcastically retorted that: “By the same token, of course, theatre critics start each day with a speech from Hamlet, while dance critics squat at the barre.” Bassett made a similar comment in reference to Oatley: “You must have an understanding of the game and the tactics and I think in order to do that you need to have played the game.” Bassett obviously did not know Oatley played amateur football until the age of 27, when she quit due to a knee injury.
Here in 2013, things can hardly be said to be much of any better. Barring Amy Lawrence, or Ireland’s own wonderful Mary Hannigan, there remains a dearth of females in the trade, or at least visibly working in the public eye. And for those of you looking for a change, I wouldn’t direct my attentions to England anytime soon. Given the fallout from Sian Massey‘s refereeing duties, and the whole ‘smashing it‘ bit – I suspect that we’ll be waiting a long old time for Sky Sports Super Sunday to have a female voice going out live. For now though, this is a step forward, mostly for German football only, but it’s a start – it gives us all something to think on.