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When Sky Sports commentator Andy Gray was dismissed earlier this year for commenting about the female incapacity for understanding the offside rule, the press went into overdrive. This was yet further proof that sexism is a continuing problem, with women remaining the inferior gender. As a female who is rather passionate about football, I found myself in almost constant debate over the days following. The more it was brought to my attention however, the more ridiculous I found the entire situation. Yes, Gray made comments of a sexist nature, but he was unaware that his microphone was still switched on. I frequently make comments I don’t really mean in the name of the great British pastime that is banter.
Banter has always been, and still is a big part of sport- from local league through to the international scale. Would sport really be as interesting without it? Without a level of competition, winning is practically meaningless, from a personal to an international level. To me it seemed as though terminating Gray’s contract was underlining the fact that it can sometimes be taken the wrong way, frequently by women. The news stories were purely focused upon the issue of sexism, and to some degree, rightly so. But would victory have not been sweeter had the news focused on the fact that video replays proved Sian Massey (the female lineswoman involved) was actually correct and knew the offside rule better than an ex-professional player who has been analysing matches on TV for almost 20 years?
I’m not always so cold and heartless towards the female plight though, I understand the struggle women experience in the male dominated world of sport. I have played football since the age of five (as the eldest child I think my Dad was anxious that he wouldn’t get an athletically competitive son), and began my playing career in a boys’ team. From the age of 11, mixed gender teams were not permitted; therefore I was forced to leave my male friends and join a girls only team despite the lack of difference in size and ability. Things have changed since then, as last year the Brunel University Report found there to be no sufficient differences between males and females to support gender segregation. Their findings highlighted the social benefits mixed gender sports can bring to individuals, such as respectful relationships between the sexes. This ruling was altered by the FA last year, and the age at which children of mixed gender can play together is now 13.
The Kick It Out campaign run by the FA highlights racism within football, and has successfully reduced racist offences within sport. With such a multicultural plethora of players within the Premiership it seems ridiculous that such ideas ever existed. Homophobia on the other hand is very much ignored, fuelled by the fact that there is yet to be an openly gay footballer within the top four football leagues. It also manifests itself in the female footballing world through homosexual stereotyping. Whilst myself I partly conform to this stereotype, in my experience it is not an issue and the environment is more tolerant towards women.
The FA has attempted to combat these homophobic attitudes through a video campaign in 2010, although it was unsuccessful due to every single Premiership footballer being unwilling to back it. ‘Coming out’ is considered to be commercially damaging to a player’s marketability, but I find it surprising that heterosexuals are refraining from providing support to a liberal, open-minded scheme. This is a different story in the world of rugby; Gareth Thomas, the most capped Welsh player ‘came out’ to mass support and little problem in the way of acceptance. So what is the reason for the dramatically different outlook between the sports? The last time I checked the only difference between the two is the shape of the ball, but then again as a female I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, right Mr Gray?