Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

Why #SheBelongs is much more than an effort to get girls involved in sports

A new campaign by Women in Football (WIF) aims to celebrate the increasing number of women working in football and pave the way for other women to do the same. “Women represent half the population and half the talent,” said Anna Kessel, chair of WIF. “They deserve to belong to football with equal recognition in the boardroom, workforce and as supporters.”

It’s hoped that the campaign, which coincides with International Women’s Day on March 8, will help put an end to the sexism that is still inherent in the sport. Supporters are encouraged to call out sexism on social media with #ShameOnTheGame.

This kind of thing, for example:

More: 31 Ways to celebrate International Women’s Day online

While Kessel acknowledges that “progress is being made”, it’s still extremely difficult for women to pursue a career in football, which has always been such a male-dominated sport. The main issue is that so many men simply aren’t on board with the idea.

In 2011, Sky Sports presenter Andy Gray was sacked after making sexist comments towards female football referee Sian Massey and suggestive remarks aimed at his colleague Charlotte Jackson.

Gray and his long-standing Sky Sports colleague Richard Keys were caught talking about female football officials when they thought their microphones were switched off. They agreed that the women working in the game “don’t know the offside rule”.

Even after the pair were exposed for their sexist remarks, Keys, who was also later sacked, appeared to show no remorse, responding to a column by Karren Brady (former managing director of Birmingham City F.C. and current vice-chairman of West Ham United F.C.) with, “The game’s gone mad. See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love.”

Sadly, Gray and Keys don’t seem to have learnt from the experience or changed their prehistoric, chauvinistic attitudes. In January 2014, they were caught on camera directing a sexist chant (“Get your t**s out for the lads!”) at Sky Sports anchorwoman Clare Tomlinson.

Last October, Northumberland County Football Association vice president John Cummings was sacked for telling referee Lucy May that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”.

More: #BriefMessage project takes on violence against women (PHOTOS)

Of course, sexist comments and abusive chants aren’t exclusive to sexist sports presenters and officials. Female football officials and staff are regularly subjected to this at games. This week, the Football Association made a public appeal to fans, urging them to report such abuse at games.

This was prompted by footage obtained by the BBC showing Chelsea’s female medic Dr. Eva Carneiro and female assistant referee Helen Byrne suffering taunts during recent matches.

In March 2014, a Women in Football survey revealed that over 66 percent of women working in the sport had witnessed sexism in the workplace. Over 89 percent of those who said they had witnessed it admitted that they didn’t report it.

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, which supports the #SheBelongs campaign, said: “Whether victims are staff, players or fans, misogynistic chants and sexual harassment can mar the experience of sporting events. It is time that clubs and fans alike stand together and take responsibility for creating a space where everybody can enjoy football, free from any kind of prejudice.”

As part of the campaign, all 92 Premier and Football League clubs have been asked to profile inspirational women in their match day programmes to show their commitment to equal opportunities for women in football. WIF has also created a sexist briefing note — the first of its kind — for match day stewards and stadium safety officials to recognise sexist abuse in football stadiums.

This campaign presents us with an opportunity to think about the wider issue of gender equality. Why shouldn’t football and all other sports be a level playing field for men and women? Perhaps we need to look at the issue at grassroots. Is football offered to girls from a young age, in schools and local communities? Are we too quick to sign girls up for traditionally “feminine” sports, like ballet? Of course, ballet is an extremely demanding sport — but some little girls would rather kick a ball than practice a pirouette. Would we deny a young boy the chance to train as a ballerina, or would we shout abuse at a male dancer simply because he’s a man? Not in a million years. So we shouldn’t tolerate it on behalf of females in football.

You can report any sexist abuse in football anonymously by emailing

More on gender equality

What’s next for women now that gender pay laws are set to change?
Celia Imrie’s wolf-whistling comment misses the point
How you can join the #HeForShe campaign

Leave a Comment