For Women’s Euro 2022 to have a meaningful legacy, football must do more to tackle racism and sexism
Women have been playing football for a long time – and for a long time they have had to fight to be respected.
In 1969, the Daily Mirror used a photograph of a female footballer’s shorts falling down while she jumped to head the ball. In the 1990s, players reported men walking across the pitch during women’s football league games.
While Women’s Euro 2022 has set new standards in terms of attendance and media coverage of the women’s game, this generation of players continues to experience sexism.
Research carried out by broadcasters and media in Germany found that lewd remarks and other insults on social media were widespread during the 2022 Euros. Top-flight players in Germany reported experiencing sexism from journalists and coaches.
There is no official campaign against sexism in football from within the English Football Association. Ahead of the Euros, though, mobile network operator EE brought out an advertisement against online misogyny. The takeaway message was that “sexist hate stops with men”.
Perhaps it’s to be expected, given that brand activism is a well-known way to attract new consumers, that corporations are a step ahead of governing bodies in campaigns for equality. For instance, in the 1990s sports brand Nike sought out woman consumers by focusing its campaigns on feminism and female empowerment.
Misogyny encompasses more than just sexism. Girls and women are not a homogeneous group, and while some players will experience sexism, others will experience the intersections of sexism with racism.
The term “misogynoir” is used to describe how racism and sexism combine and the specific way that Black women experience sexism. The body shaming and abuse directed at Serena Williams, one of the world’s most successful tennis players, is one example.
In 2021, English player Rinsola Babajide received online abuse that denigrated her as a Black woman footballer. “I just feel, as a Black woman in this game, I am conditioned to it,” Babajide told BBC News. “It happens so regularly. It’s more exhausting than anything. I’ve gone past the point of being disappointed or hurt by it.”
The spectacle of England’s women winning Euro 2022 will drive change and progress. But from their first game on July 6 to the final, it was noticeable that every English starting lineup was made up of white players. There were only three Black players in the England squad of 23.
The whiteness of the current team may come as a surprise to some, because Black women have held visible roles in English women’s football and continue to do so. Hope Powell was the first woman to coach England and continues her career managing Brighton & Hove Albion. Alex Scott and Eniola Aluko work in football commentary following successful playing careers.
Research shows that racism was and is embedded in both men’s and women’s football in England. The treatment of Aluko may have left a particular legacy: she experienced racism during her time as an England player, receiving degrading comments from management and coaching staff. After a long process which started in 2014, the FA made an apology in 2017.
Aluko felt that the FA had been dismissive when she first reported racism. Research by scholar Sara Ahmed shows how complaints made by women of colour are devalued, trivialised and often rejected – a process that can be racist in itself.
Sexist and racist abuse, as well as images of whiteness and the difficulties of calling out racism, may deter the next generations of players. If football is indeed a “game for all”, it must commit to diversity throughout the sport: from player development in schools through the structures of the game to the very top.
Jayne Caudwell does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.