Can Mixed Football Solve The Beauty Myth?

The Richard Keys and Andy Gray furore has brought to the fore an argument that has been mouldering on for a while now and was touched upon by Karen Brady last week regarding sexism in football.

Sky has brought swift disciplinary action upon Keys and Gray and issued a statement saying that:

“Those views are inexcusable, entirely inconsistent with our ethos as a business and employer, and will rightly offend many of our customers, our people, and the wider public.

“They are inexcusable from anyone at Sky, regardless of their role or seniority. We have dealt with this matter by taking immediate disciplinary action.“

This is a noble sentiment but Sky continue to take part in the socially acceptable form of discrimination against women. Their flagship, round the clock, Sky Sports News channel usually includes a female host alongside a male counterpart. While this should be a good thing, the woman is inevitably blonde, good-looking and showing some cleavage, which when seated next to their suited colleague seems to give the impression that a large part of the reason they are there is to give Sky Sports News mainly male audience ‘something to look at’.

I am trying to tread carefully as Georgie Thomson and co. are excellent at their job but I think it is clear that they must be under direct or indirect pressure from Sky on them to dress in a certain way to sell their product.

The FA, who have admirably pushed the agenda of promoting the introduction of more female officials on the pitch and in the boardroom, have also been guilty of taking part in this practice. Although admittedly over 5 years old, the FA published a ‘Look Book’ brochure intended to ‘sell’ women’s football to a wider audience. It included pictures of members of the English women’s football team in their kit but also showing their feminity by revealing glimpses of their underwear.

They are of course not the only culprits of this widespread practice as there is pressure on women to act in certain way in many (if not all?) industries. This is a wider problem of our patriarchal society with the ingrained perception of the roles that are fit for the respective genders. Men are seen as strong, logical and worldly while women are delicate and concerned with being attractive. This binary system is inherently unequal but because it has penetrated society so fully and women have bought into it themselves it requires a minor miracle to solve the discrimination that occurs. For me though, there would be an easy change that could be made to help start address the issue in football.

At present, girls and boys can only play together till the age of eleven. Once older they are not allowed to play in teams taking part in official leagues. This archaic ruling, which of course happens across most sports, enforces the notion that women are ‘different’ from men and wouldn’t be able and wouldn’t want to compete with men. Now I am not saying that all women would want to compete with men but by not even allowing them the chance, there is an immediate artificial barrier that is psychologically enforced as people get older.

Who knows whether, given the chance and a few years to overcome the previously established barriers, women would be able to play a role in top football teams? Football is a wonderful game in that it allows players of all shapes and attributes to play in the same game. The two qualities that are often said to be the ones that women would struggle to compete with are pace and strength. These are obviously important in the modern game but you now look at the number slight players who are well under six feet players and those like Riquelme and the Scholes of recent years, who are not blessed with, or have lost, speed but by using intelligence, positioning and passing can be the focal point of teams, it is obvious they are not everything.

Girls can certainly compete at under 12’s level. My younger sister played the dominating John Terry role at the back of my primary school team that conquered the Upper Deeside B League and nothing was really thought of it amongst her peers. Having the segregation rule though meant that she was no longer allowed to play with all the team-mates who she had grown up with and instead had to join an all girls team.

This is surely not a good thing if gender equality is to be promoted fully. There have been motions to extend the age but these have never been passed by the FA who claim that such a move would rip the best players from girl’s football. This may be true but not making the changes because of short term detriments are unappetising strikes me as a little short sighted. Although she enjoyed playing girls’ football, I have often wondered what my sister could have achieved had she been allowed to continue in mixed football. There will be many people who say that women will never be able to compete on a level playing field with men in football. I am not so sure.

Update 09/02/2011: Here is a similar article from Salvatore Conte in Italy.  May be of interest.  It is in Italian but Google does an excellent job of translating.

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2 Responses to Can Mixed Football Solve The Beauty Myth?

  1. John Burt says:

    Bravo Graham! As a primary school football coach, the best player I ever saw at that age was a girl (not your sister by the way, although she was good!). I see no reason why girls should not play in mixed football teams with their male peer groups as they grow up and as adults but they would need to be both emotionally as well as physically strong, as well as being talented footballers. It would be good for football and particularly good for boys as they grow up. Who knows, had Andy Gray been given the run around by a girl on a football pich when he was growing up, perhaps he would now have a different attitude to women and might still have a job!

  2. Dear Graham,
    I do promote mixed football at least since three years:
    I have also founded a Facebook Group about this topic, with hundreds of members.
    Please quote my article, since mixed football age is already started and the world is not (only) the FA (luckily!)…
    Thank you.

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