Many see football and feminism as mutually exclusive interests, but as someone who writes about both, I can confirm they cross paths more frequently than you might suspect.
And certainly more than either would like.
Richard Keys and Andy Gray’s remarks about match official Sian Massey and the pair’s subsequent departure from the self-proclaimed ‘Home of Football‘, which suddenly found itself short on space for banter, say. FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s (yep, him) remarks about improving the women’s game by making the players wear tighter shorts. Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore’s outbox.
To name but a few.
Like most institutions who’ve recently realised the people they’ve been excluding and/or belittling for the majority of their existence are in fact lucrative revenue streams, football is making an effort to project a reformed attitude. EA Sports recently announced that women’s teams would feature in their new version of their ubiquitous FIFA game. Female presenters, summarisers and writers of mainstream media coverage are no longer of sufficient novelty value to provoke hysterical reactions. Increased awareness is leading to more instances of self-policing among fans.
A stubborn minority will always cling onto their prejudices though, whether it’s because they have no other way of defining themselves or don’t have the courage to admit they’re embarrassingly wrong. But while the aesthetically pleasing, friendly face that football is now presenting is charming enough, you don’t have to agitate it too much to for the underlying contempt to re-emerge.
A couple of days ago, a video featuring three Leicester City development squad players engaging in sex acts with Thai women was leaked to a tabloid newspaper. If you’re unfamiliar with the pantomime that is the Premier League, Leicester City were promoted into the league in 2013/14, had a difficult start, beat Manchester United 5-3, looked nailed on for relegation, became embroiled in a press frenzy when their manager had a meltdown and called a journalist an ostrich, then, presumably as a result of the persecution, put a string of great results together to secure another season in the top flight.
The video has thrown shade over the goodwill the club’s thrillride evoked among neutrals, not least because at least one of players involved in the grim footage was heard using a racial slur. The coverage in the Mirror newspaper and subsequent reporting of the story has focussed on this angle, not least because the club’s owners are Thai nationals and the footage was filmed during an “end-of-season tour to promote goodwill in the[ir] homeland”.
And they say satire is dead.
Well, it might be gasping frantically at its last breath, but not on thefootballramble.com; the web organ of the weekly football show who pay me to analyse the game and its protagonists carefully and then make facetious remarks about them. Footballers are world leaders in the competitive sport of filming themselves while committing nefarious acts and in my capacity as professional commentator, I’ve seen quite a few eyebrow raising things done ‘while a mate films it’. I was certain I’d find some humorous furrow to plow before signing off with a now traditional, “my god. Is everyone in this sport we love a total bellend?”.
I experienced a lot of things while watching a short segment of the footage – about thirteen seconds worth – but none of them were remotely connected to humour. I’m not going to link to it or republish it here, because I can’t control who sees it. But before you go and look for it, just trust me when I say, there’s nothing remotely titillating about it.
It’s not the casual racism I find so offensive, although that’s bad enough. It’s not even the sex acts, which, while gruesome, are no worse than anything you can instantly access via your browser for no extra charge.
It’s the utter contempt shown to the women by these boys, who are far too young to have been spurned, rejected or belittled; the traditional, if crude, explanation for this level of casual misogyny. This video is a window that provides a brief glimpse of the dehumanising effect of rampant capitalism when combined with a technological revolution that facilitates, or perhaps even encourages, the consumption of pornography from a young age.
They’re rich and have already learned that if you can pay for something, it’s a commodity. It’s perfectly clear that the players believed they could treat the women in this video as they wished, and if not for someone within their group cashing out on the footage, it would have remained private, to be enjoyed by the protagonists and their presumably like minded mates.
From a feminist perspective, it’s troubling enough, but concern shouldn’t be limited to those of us interested in the right of women to be treated with respect, regardless of social position or means or employment. Even if you have no sympathy with that, and are of the mind that it’s an overreaction to consider this footage anything other than “boys being boys” or whatever lame arse cliche you’re reaching for, think about how this kind of attitude is failing young men in our society too.
As revenge porn has articulated so vividly in recent months, the wonder of the internet is its everlasting memory. That video of Tom Hopper, James Pearson and Adam Smith will be circulating forever. Their future girlfriends, wives and kids will be able to see it, not to mention their parents, grandparents and relatives. What hope of a mutually respectful, loving, passionate relationship for any of them? Is it possible for human beings to disassociate themselves completely from a belief system that has shown them women can be acquired and discarded?
Even if it is, what woman could say she’d seen the footage of her partner behaving like that and could comfortably be intimate with him?
One thing’s for certain. If we carry on like this, we’re all going to end up ‘paying for sex’, one way or another.