19 June 2024

It’s quite scary – Women in Football chief concerned about discrimination report

19 June 2024

Women in Football chief Yvonne Harrison says she is deeply concerned by a new report revealing that discrimination against women remains an overwhelming problem even after a year of reckoning across the game.

Nearly nine in 10 women who responded to WIF’s latest annual survey – 89 per cent – said they have experienced gender-based discrimination at work, a seven per cent rise from 2023, with more than 60 per cent of those who reported an incident also answering that no action was taken as a result.

More concerningly, 16 per cent said they were not even listened to, rising to 23 per cent for women from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.

“I think if you were trying to use these stats to convince women to come into this industry they would be running the other way at a very swift pace,” Harrison told the PA news agency.

“That (16 per cent) is deeply depressing because you think we’re working so hard to build people’s confidence to say, ‘these things are not OK’ and you should expect action to be taken.

“How do we keep encouraging women to push if they’re not getting that response? If you’re telling me that nothing happened then why on earth am I going to make a point and risk it?

“I’ve spoken to members who have gone, ‘I’m done. I’m not even willing to have the fight anymore’, and that’s desperately sad.

“In 10 years’ time we could have less women in the senior leadership roles. It’s quite scary, really.”

WIF offers referrals to pro bono legal services for women experiencing workplace issues including sexual assault to wrongful dismissal, and in peak periods have answered calls daily about range of cases Harrison says are “heartbreaking” to hear.

Even before last summer’s Women’s World Cup, players and coaches from federations including Canada, France, Jamaica, Nigeria and England had spoken out or taken action over a range of issues, including pay and playing conditions.

Perhaps most famously, 15 Spanish players refused to play for the national team in 2022, with concerns over the behaviour and methods of ex-Spain head coach Jorge Vilda reportedly a key factor.

Just three of those players featured in the squad for Spain’s 2023 World Cup triumph, a victory overshadowed the moment ex-Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales kissed Spain midfielder Jennifer Hermoso on the lips without her consent during the celebrations.

Rubiales, initially defiant in the face of the ensuing international outcry, finally stepped down in mid-September and has since been handed a three-year ban by FIFA. He is set to stand trial in Spain for sexual assault and coercion over the kiss and the aftermath.

Vilda – reportedly a strong Rubiales ally – was also sacked by the RFEF, though the federation’s statement was complimentary and did not provide a reason. He has since been appointed head coach of Morocco’s women, despite the Spanish situation initially seeming to serve as a pivotal ‘Me Too’ moment.

Harrison said: “It actually blows my mind that in sport, and particularly in football, people do not do great jobs, are shown to be doing terrible things and suddenly get another job. Go and get another job, go and destroy somewhere… we need to do better. We owe it to women to do better.”

Nearly half of the the 1,118 respondents to WIF’s survey, 44 per cent, also said they have witnessed an increase in discriminatory social media posts.

Football pundit Eni Aluko said she feared for her safety after former Premier Leaguer Joey Barton – currently embroiled in a libel case over online accusations about broadcaster Jeremy Vine – likened her and fellow ITV presenter Lucy Ward to serial killers Fred and Rose West.

Harrison’s organisation “consciously” chose not to give Barton more of a platform, instead working behind the scenes with stakeholders in areas like broadcasting and government.

Somehow, despite the worrying figures, 85 per cent of female respondents to WIF’s survey feel opportunities for women in the football industry will get better.

Asked why, Harrison added: “As women we’ve always been the underdogs in society. We weren’t allowed to vote. We weren’t allowed to play football. All of that lends itself to, ‘well I can, and I will. Watch me’.”

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