Has soccer finally started caring about sexism?

“Get your tits out for the lads.”
“Show us where you piss from, you slag, show us your minge.”

A series of videos of male fans singing and shouting sexist (if that’s even the right word for things so criminally sexual) remarks at Premier League games have caught the eye of various media outposts this week, though many were recorded weeks and months ago. In particular, videos of Manchester United (above) and Arsenal fans abusing Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro have garnered serious attention.

“Have you ever had a gooner up your arse!”

Women In Football (WiF), “a network of professional women working in and around the football industry who support and champion their peers” that “aims to improve women’s representation at all levels of the game” is using these videos and other incidents as an opportunity to take England’s Football Association and its member clubs to task. The group has expressed concern over the governing body’s lack of a responsiveness and is calling for more meaningful punishments for individuals creating a hostile atmosphere in stadiums and elsewhere:

“Women in Football are appalled that sexist abuse has been allowed to thrive, unchecked, around some of the country’s most iconic football stadiums. We are gravely concerned at a lack of action on this issue, and the negative message this sends to women in the football industry. We urge the authorities to put sexism at the heart of football’s anti-discrimination agenda, alongside all the other strands that it must also tackle.”

Beginning today, in conjunction with upcoming International Women’s Day (March 8) commemorations, WiF has launched a two-pronged social media campaign seeking to both encourage more women to participate in all aspects of soccer and allow fans to report incidents of abuse that they encounter in their home venues:

‘The month-long campaign by Women in Football, supported by Everyday Sexism, will use social media to highlight the growing number of women working in football and help encourage more to follow in their footsteps with the hashtag #SheBelongs. It will also aim to raise awareness of discrimination and sexist abuse, especially on match days, and how to report it through #ShameOnTheGame.”

Helen Grant, Britain’s Minister of Sport and Tourism, has shown support for WiF, and has been quoted by The Guardian as being “gravely concerned” by league authorities’ inability or reluctance to take a stronger stance on sexism. She has also called for FA clubs to to have 25 percent female executive boards by 2017. To put that number in perspective, it was estimated that women made up 19 percent of Premier League attendees in the 2008-09 season.

“It is absolutely right we champion and celebrate women who work in the football industry and play vital roles in making the game the success that it is. I want more women to get involved in football across the board and to see it as a great industry to work in,” she said.

“Sexism, in any shape or form, should not be tolerated so I applaud this push to encourage people to report any incidents of sexist abuse and for the promotion of inclusivity across football.”

Grant has come under criticism herself for previously suggesting that an “unfeminine” game like soccer was not the right avenue for women to get into sports, instead proposing that there “are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.”

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Twenty-five incidents of abuse have been reported to the Football Association by WiF and anti-discrimination organization Kick It Out this season alone. However, citing a lack of evidence, the FA has yet to punish any club or individual for acts similar to those involving Chelsea’s Dr. Carneiro. Heather Rabbatts, the lone woman on the FA’s 11-member board, has responded to criticisms of the association, saying, “We are absolutely encouraging people to report incidents like this.”

Clubs have done the expected and offered press release statements in response to the videos currently making their way around the world. Chelsea, who have had a nightmarish month of their own from a public relations standpoint, made a bold vow to remove sexist factions from their support:

“The issue of equality is one that we take extremely seriously at Chelsea Football Club and we abhor discrimination in all its forms, including sexism. We find such behaviour unacceptable and we want it eradicated from the game.”

Manchester United sought to distance itself from the idea that it knew of the October incident yet chose to ignore it until this week’s media furor:

“No complaint was made at the time, so any feedback of this nature made after the event has to be referred to the police, which the club did within 24 hours.”

Manchester City, referring to reports that fans hurled abuse at assistant referee Helen Byrne, took a somewhat surprising approach, admitting “a breakdown in communication.” Saying that though the incident was reported, “the usual investigation process was not followed,” and that “a new specific guidance on sexist abuse was introduced from the very next game and a new training programme implemented.”

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With each passing week, it becomes more evident that fans of the global game are fed up with the presence of a number of off-the-field issues. From match-fixing and financial corruption to racism, living wages and violence, we’re long past saying “it’s just soccer.” Those days are over. Lovers of the game have entered a new age of awareness, and the demands to remove elements from soccer culture that we would never accept in other aspects of our lives are growing louder.

Each of these problems gets addressed in some way, with varying efficacy, because there was an event that creates a spark – something specific, focused and undeniable that forced them into the consciousness of those within the game; something that left authorities with no choice but to act. It seems that sexism may have finally received its spark.

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