After the Fifa World Cup kicked off last week, it was only a matter of time before the (frustrating) debate about women's place in the conversation came to the forefront of the news agenda.
This year the controversy was sparked by ex-footballer Patrice Evra's condescending remarks to Eni Aluko, also an ex-footballer with an impressive list of sporting and academic accolades to her name, who joined him as a pundit on ITV's match coverage. When Aluko gave some insightful commentary on the Serbia vs Costa Rica match, Evra applauded in amazement. 'I think we should leave, Henrik, because she knows about more football than us! I’m really impressed, you know.She knows more than us!', he later remarked to co-pundit Henrick Larsson.
Cue the merciless eye rolls and a Twitterstorm of outrage. 'Shut the front door and alert the papers! A female ex-professional football player with more than 100 matches under her belt has something perceptive to contribute to the conversation! Who'd have bloody thunk it!'
The Guardian reported that the panel were all made aware of the social media uproar after the show, and the optimistic among us would hope that Evra will now think twice before behaving similarly towards any fellow and future female pundits, but when we take a wider look at the landscape football commentary, things don't look very promising.
Aluko and former Arsenal player Alex Scott, who is starring on the BBC, are the only two women appearing as pundits on national TV this year. The reason for why is a familiar one: male-dominated arenas are inherently difficult to penetrate. Especially in sport. And while pundits like Aluko and Scott are in fact receiving sincere praise for their expertise and enthusiasm for the game in their respective TV appearances, it only makes the lack of women (no, two is not enough) across the board.
There have been suggestions across the internet that Aluko and Scott are being used as diversity tokens. Including a woman of colour in their World Cup coverage ticks two boxes each for ITV and the BBC under the increasingly scrutinous eyes of a public that rightly expects better. But some have gone as far to suggest that despite expertise and diversification, women acting as pundits in men's sport is 'odd'.
In a column for i News, Simon Kelner wrote: 'Women’s football is a very different game from that played at the World Cup, much less intense and physical, with very different tactical exigencies. I’m not saying that women’s football isn’t entertaining or relevant, but it’s like getting a netball player to discuss major league basketball. Some people may find it equally odd when men are commentators in women’s football matches.'
Your confusion isn't misplaced. The sporting world, and we're talking both genders here, has long been dominated by male commentary. It's a realm that has been run by men and the pay gaps reflect which gender the scales of respect lean towards. But the consideration that perhaps women shouldn't comment on mens' football because women's football is different really does not make sense. In both Aluko and Scott's cases, as sadly these are the only two we have to reflect upon so far, they nailed their contributions to conversation often citing more insightful analysis than their male counterparts who supposedly know the game better than them.
Of course women can be pundits for men's football. It's been proven and will be proven again (we hope). But as we look ahead to a summer of football with just two women participating as high profile pundits and Vicki Sparks having only just received the acolade as first woman to commentate live on a World Cup match in the UK, we're only reminded of how far we've got to go, in both getting women in those seats and changing the attitudes towards putting them there.
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'Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.'
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