Being a referee is no walk in the park. It’s a job for the thick-skinned and those uncaring of copping abuse from passionate fans. It’s the nature of the game we love, but there is a stark difference between hating on a referee because they’re the referee, and hating on a referee because she’s, god-forbid, a woman.
Women in football have garnered significant media attention over the past six months, but more often than not female refs aren’t counted in that number. It’s probably because they’re pretty darn scarce at all levels of the code. In 2014, females accounted for under 10% of referees globally (FIFA’s Women’s Football Survey partially attributes this to the mandatory use of female referees at a FIFA competition level).
Yet, 2015’s stats show female referees resign at a rate three times more than men as a result of verbal abuse. This isn’t just at top league games though, parents at domestic games as young as Under 9’s have featured in reports of abuse towards female referees.
Granted, women have to earn their time in the stripes just as much as their male counterparts; they’ve got to have all the qualities of a competent and resilient referee and should not be appointed just to fill some quota. Former UK Referee Manager Janie Frampton noted,
“At the end of the day the girls have to be good enough, there will be no positive discrimination. If we go down that line it’ll set us back 20 years. Out there, the girls have to have credibility, that they’re there because they’re good enough.”
Admittedly though, many in the public eye of the traditionally male-dominated game haven’t made it easy on them.
Back in 2011, Sky Sports commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys were infamously sacked after they were recorded off-air ridiculing Sian Massey-Ellis, then an EPL assistant referee, saying “women don’t know the offside rule.”
In 2014, the UK’s Northumberland County FA vice-president John Cummings was suspended for 4 months for telling Lucy May, a referee and football development officer, that “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” and “she wouldn’t be able to handle it.”
“It’s nothing against you personally but all the time I’m alive, a woman will never referee.”
Ahh, such a shame little Johnny, because women from Wendy Toms and Sian Massey-Ellis to Bibiana Steinhaus, Kari Seitz and Australia’s own Sarah Ho and Kirralee Andruschak have since proved you wrong.
Beyond referees though, women making their mark in football are having to do so with a heads-down attitude. When Manchester City took on Chelsea in 2014, a player sought treatment from a physio who happened to be a woman. Lo and behold, chants of “get your tits out for the lads” were heard from the crowd.
Is it really a surprise, then, that when someone gives ‘female footballers’ a google search, the top answers have absolutely nothing to do with their ability and everything to do with appearance?
Just recently, Just Not Sports videoed men reading out the online hate copped by US sports journalists Sarah Spain and Julie DeCaro in a social experiment to highlight rampant online harassment.
“You need to be hit in the head with a hockey puck and killed” one tweet read, before the women were obliged to post screenshots to prove that they didn’t make that shit up.
It’s quite a confronting watch, but necessary if sexism in sport is ever going to change.
Thankfully, FIFA’s Head of Refereeing Massimo Busaccua shows some promise:
“Men and women have to work together, because we are convinced that this should be our philosophy. The game is the same, the decisions they take are the same, and thus the preparation for the referees and assistant referees should be, too.”