Football fan or not, you cannot avoid the World Cup. It is everywhere. The UK is sharing the broadcast coverage between the BBC and ITV Sport, meaning there are lots of opportunities for sports pundits to make a bit of coin and get a name for themselves. Out of curiosity, I went on Twitter to see what people were saying about female World Cup commentators. Sadly, nothing was surprising.
When I look at women's involvement in things like the World Cup, I am often actually cautiously optimistic. In 2018, women are still fighting for equality and they're doing a good job. Many positive gains are happening, including the excellent news that there are lots of female commentators and pundits at this year's World Cup. Think positive thoughts y'all.
But when I took the plunge into the world of Twitter after noticing the World Cup was trending, what did I find? Disappointment. It's hard to believe that in 2018, women are still faced with so much sexism. What's even stranger is that people aren't embarrassed by being openly misogynistic either — they're putting it on blast so loud you really can't ignore it. Judging by these tweets, it's almost as though they are proud of their ignorance.
Seriously, people? This is beyond grim. Women being unfairly treated and not praised and rewarded for their abilities and accolades is nothing new, but for it to be so brazen in 2018 seems shocking. It's clear that misogyny in football culture remains rife. Just this week, female sports reporter Julieth González Therán was forcibly kissed and groped by a fan on live TV.
There are a lot of fans — I mean like a lot of fans — claiming that this is "political correctness gone mad" or that the TV networks are just "filling quotas". Grim. Here's a suggestion, why doesn't everyone take a step back for one second and just look at the stats and experiences of some of the female sports pundits, juxtaposed with the fantastically grotesque tweets from some football fans? Their achievements more than justify their seat at the table.
Just this week, Vicki Sparks made history when she became the first woman commentator ever on a world cup live match in the UK. Yas girl! Sparks got her break in commentary in 2014 after being recruited to cover the FA Women's Super League. She was, at the time, working at Radio Newcastle and since then she has been one busy bee, working on BBC Five Live, Match of the Day, and Final Score. Of course, despite these absolutely top notch credentials, some people were just not convinced about her achievements.
Thankfully, there were several voices to the contrary, celebrating this landmark moment.
Sparks isn't the only pundit at the World Cup who is highly skilled in her field. Jacqui Oatley, who is reporting for ITV, is a seriously accomplished sports personality. A fully fledged FA football coach as well as an ambassador for Women in Football, Oatley has performed hosting duties for the usual suspect football shows like Match of the Day (on which she was the first ever female commentator), the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, The Football League Show and Final Score. She is so great that even the bloomin' Queen acknowledged it, rewarding her for her hard work, achievements and success with an MBE in 2016
ITV's Eniola Aluko is another footballer with an incredible list of achievements. Starting at 15 playing for Birmingham City at Premier League level she has had an absolutely insanely illustrious football career. Currently at Juventus, she has played for England at UEFA Womens European Cup level, FIFA Women's World Cup Level, and as an Olympian. Jeeze Louise, she is no joke at all in the world of football. She also has a first class law degree from Brunel. Seriously.
Aluko found herself in the crosshairs of some internet controversy this week when, while providing punditry on ITV, one time Manchester United defender Patrice Evra turned to Henrik Larsson and says, "She knows more than us!" Well spotted, Patrice — she probably does — and why on earth would she not?
Hiring female football stars and women of colour shows that TV networks are standing up to promote diversity and equality, which is a necessary process. But these women were also hired because they're the best in their field. Period. Their achievements deserve our respect.
I am the proud aunt of twins, one male and one female. They are both gifted, intelligent, open, and kind in different, unique and interesting ways and I love them with all my heart. I actually welled up just typing that. My niece happens to be an excellent footballer, so much so that the coach took her mum aside to say so. One day she might want to pursue a career in or relating to football, or maybe not. What is important though is that we all lead by example and ensure that the next generation has that option, no matter what their gender is.
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