While people across the world celebrate International Women's day, football still fails to live up to modern gender standards. The comment section on the highlights of an England women's game is just one example of this.

For a number of years women have fought to be on an equal footing with men. Whether it’s in politics, business, or academia, men have always had the upper hand.

Women’s rights movements have facilitated significant changes in society, opening up more opportunities for women in several walks of life. International Women’s Day commemorates the movement every year. It was first observed in 1909 and is a day when women’s achievements are celebrated across the world. On the backdrop of this, I noticed one area where sexism still is still very much rife: football.

Watching the highlights from England’s match against Germany on Monday, I started reading the comments section.

FA.com England vs Germany highlights comments section

Almost every other comment was someone saying something derogatory towards the Lionesses. One user wrote ‘exactly why woman shouldn’t play football all in a nutshell.’

When I was reading this, I wasn’t surprised. The comments are an endemic reflection on modern sport. While women’s football has grown rapidly over the last five years, there are many people who hold extremely backwards and sexist views of women in sport.

The level of football might not be as high as we have come to expect from the men’s games, but it is still extremely entertaining. Many of the people commenting probably haven’t even watched a full game. The quality of football is damaged from a lack funding and support for the women’s game. But it might’ve been so different if women weren’t banned from football in 1921.

The game was thriving while men were on the frontline fighting. Crowds of almost 53,000 would come to watch the likes of Gemma Fay and Lily Parr play football. They are still pioneers of the women’s game and idolised by many. But, governments and footballing associations across the world banned women from football. They felt that women playing football was unnatural and took advice from experts who said that women should be returned to their ‘right place’ in society.

Amateur leagues have started introducing leagues with more mixed teams (Credit: Amar)

This treatment of women in football was a microcosm of their place in society at the time. While certain areas of society have improved, sport is still a conservative institution where women are still often excluded. After the ban was lifted in 1971, women had to rebuild from the bottom, the foundations of the game were torn to shreds.

In some ways they are still rebuilding. Women have to play on artificial turf and their games aren’t televised during peak hours. Male teams are paying millions for players while Toni Duggan signed for Barcelona for free. This was seen as a landmark signing by many experts. This is just one small glimpse into women’s sport: when women work in football they experience abuse and mistreatment.

While racism and homophobia have been tackled with strong policy and publicity it seems that many think sexism in football doesn’t exist. Or it’s batted off as the norm.

Women have jump through many more hoops to play sport at any level

Former Chelsea Football Club medic Eva Carneiro experienced sexual taunts during a number of matches. She was dismissed in strange circumstances and was followed by comments from former manager José Mourinho who said the team doctor should “understand football.

I’m not saying his comments were intended to be sexist by any stretch of the imagination, but Carnerio’s strange dismissal did raise a few eyebrows. Would a male doctor have received such abuse and been sacked in such unusual circumstances?

Women don’t only receive backlash from fans on comment sections but also find it difficult to work in an environment free of sexism. Many industries have achieved a great deal of equality but there is an ingrained sexist culture in football.

Women have jump through many more hoops to play sport at any level. Until we address the sexism in football no progress will be made. Maybe we could take a leaf out of America’s book, where women’s football, or soccer, is thriving in an environment where it is promoted rather than discouraged.

Image: James Boyes
Young journalist and University of Nottingham graduate. I talk about sport and music.

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