From the TUC

Sexism in football: The beautiful game’s ugly secret?

09 Nov 2016, by in Equality

From the school playground to the Premier League stand, for millions of people football is more than a sport – it is a way of life.

But it’s a beautiful game with an ugly underbelly when it comes to women working within the sport, who are too often subjected to discrimination, harassment and abuse.

Women in Football’s latest survey shows we face real problems:

  • The number of women in football who have suffered sexual harassment has doubled in the last two years.
  • Nearly two-thirds have endured sexist jokes or so-called “banter”.
  • Half have experienced sexism.
  • Four in ten have received derogatory comments about their ability based on gender.
  • And around a quarter feel they are judged on their looks over their ability to do their job.

The case of Eva Carneriro

Perhaps this isn’t surprising when we think of cases like Eva Carneiro, the Chelsea team physio who recently hit the headlines, publicly humiliated and abused by her then manager Jose Mourinho.

Eva’s experience cut across many of the issues affecting women in football and lifted the lid on sexism and misogyny at the highest levels of the game. She was forced to endure sexually explicit remarks from male colleagues and supporters, denied access to female changing and shower facilities, and was demoted from the first team to the junior women’s team – all before her reputation as a doctor was trashed.

Hats off to Eva for winning not just an unreserved apology and a financial settlement, but the justice she deserved. Others working at lower levels in the game haven’t been so fortunate. One former female referee said:

“I’ve been subjected to sexist taunts from colleagues, sent sexually provocative texts on a match day, and was not supported in any way by my superiors when I complained. The situation became so unbearable I had to leave my job.”

What can we do to improve the situation?

Our first task must be to get more women into senior positions in football. Women remain under-represented in key institutions, boards and committees, in the sport’s grassroots and in the media. We need women making the big decisions. Not just in the boardroom, the dug-out or the treatment room, but in the commentary box, the press room, and in the big institutions like the FA and FIFA.

Secondly we need to tackle sexual harassment in football – and in other workplaces. It’s a huge issue for women in modern Britain. Recent TUC research with the Everyday Sexism found that more than half of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment simply while doing their job. We also found:

  • A third of women had been subject to unwelcome jokes of a sexual nature
  • A quarter had experienced unwanted touching.
  • And a fifth had suffered unwanted sexual advances.

What some people consider “just a bit of banter” is anything but. This isn’t about women being able to take a joke or not. Sexual harassment is undermining and humiliating and victims are often left feeling ashamed and frightened.

Our third priority is for unions to get organising the female football workforce. The best protection any woman worker can have is a union card in her pocket, and the good news is unions already have a strong presence in our national game. But we can do more to represent the interests of women in a mainly male industry, tackling discrimination and harassment, helping women progress into those senior jobs, and fighting the persistent gender pay gap.

Tonight (Wednesday 9 Nov) the TUC and Women in Football are joining forces for an event to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in the sport and beyond. Speakers include the TUC’s Arsenal-fan-in-chief Frances O’Grady, along with WiF’s Jo Tongue, Sue Ferns of Prospect and the PFA’s Simone Pound.  For more information visit:

One Response to Sexism in football: The beautiful game’s ugly secret?

  1. Lizzio
    Nov 9th 2016, 4:19 pm

    I’m a self employed sports therapist working in isolation in Sussex football. I have been okay-so far. I am a member of Unite Community as to the best of my knowledge there is not a union that represents my industry, especially given my employment status. At grassroots level many of us are in the same position. To me, one of your aims should be to work with unions to provide support to the self employed so that we are represented not just cater to the employed in the higher leagues. I am proud that I am one of over 200 female coaches in the Sussex FA but this number could be increased with more support.