David Moyes slap 'joke' shows football still has a problem with women

David Moyes threatened to slap a female reporter, but football has long had a problem with women

David Moyes threatened to slap a female reporter

Monday, April 3, 2017

If you listen to the clip back, it might sound harmless enough.

A beleaguered Premier League manager sharing a joke with a reporter who's just subjected him to a tough grilling, both parties laughing amid the byplay.

But to many people the manger's 'joke' contains a kernel of malice, an implicit threat which should never be broached, not even in jest.

Whatever your view, you'll no doubt agree that David Moyes' choice of words was unnecessary and unfortunate, yet another case of foot-in-mouth for one of football's most embattled figures.

Moyes' jokey threat to slap reporter Vicki Sparks has heaped yet more controversy on the Manchester United manager, who was hailed as Britain's best coach before he took over at Old Trafford in the summer of 2013. Since then he's been hounded out of United within nine months, been embroiled in a bar-room scuffle near his home in Lancashire and been universally ridiculed for his bizarre attempt to speak Spanish. The man will probably feel he is cursed, with even harmless banter blowing up in his face.

But this latest imbroglio has repercussions far beyond Moyes and his Sunderland team, who are currently marooned at the bottom of the Premier League. It speaks to football's wider problem with sexism and misogyny, a disease which the world's most popular game has yet to cure.

A recent survey conducted in honour of International Women's Day showed the number of women in football reporting sexual harassment had more than doubled in the space of two years. The survey, covered by The Telegraph, also found the number of women being denied access to football grounds due to their gender had risen three-fold in the same period.

The survey took in people at all levels of the game: players, administrators, doctors, lawyers and match officials. It seems it doesn't matter what you do - if you're in football and you're a woman, there's a good chance you're going to face discrimination at some stage.

There's all kinds of anecdotal evidence, of course. Like the Richard Keys-Andy Gray affair of 2011, when leaked footage emerged showing the then-Sky Sports presenters criticising a female match official in markedly sexist terms. Further leaks subsequently showed Gray making lecherous comments towards a female Sky Sports reporter, while Keys was seen discussing the sex life of one of his co-presenters. 

Gray was sacked over the affair and Keys resigned, but the latter also sought to play down the significance of the farrago, calling their remarks "banter." It's a word that crops up in football all the time, generally as an excuse when unsavoury stories come to light. Football and banter seem to have a rather tempestuous relationship - a point clearly demonstrated by Moyes' 'slap' remarks.

We've also seen the Eva Carneiro affair, which saw Chelsea's team doctor leave Stamford Bridge shortly after clashing with manager Jose Mourinho over her treatment of an injured player. Carneiro, who was apparently called a 'son of a whore' by Mourinho, eventually settled a sex discrimination case against Chelsea for £1.2 million last summer.

That particular case generated huge attention - perhaps because the tabloid press were able to run pictures of Carneiro in a bikini alongside their coverage - but several other cases have flown beneath the radar. Like the time former Liverpool player Ryan Babel told a female reporter she should "try growing some tits instead of talking about football." Or former Luton Manager Mike Newell saying the inclusion of women in football was just "tokenism." Or Premier League boss Richard Scudamore writing an email to senior colleagues, saying “I had a girlfriend once called double decker… happy for you to play upstairs, but her Dad got angry if you went below”.

Indeed it seems football's women trouble extends to the highest echelons of the game. The now-disgraced Fifa boss Sepp Blatter was a serial offender, saying female footballers should wear tighter shorts to increase viewing figures, while telling Fifa's female board members "you are always speaking at home, [so] say something now." Herr Blatter's reputation as a sexist may have been swamped by his manifold other misdemeanours, but his remarks are no less damaging for that.

Even when football's administrators try to be progressive, it can backfire. In 2015, following a brilliant performance by England's women at the World Cup, the England account tweeted: "Our Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title - heroes."

The tweet was swiftly deleted, but not before it has unleashed a torrent of criticism and ensured England's superb campaign ended on a sour note.

Signs of improvement

Despite this litany of lechery, it seems football is slowly, ever so slowly, catching up with the rest of the world. 

In October the FA announced a plan to double the number of women playing and watching football by the end of the decade, increasing the budget by 16%. 

British football's governing body has peldged more than a quarter of a billion pounds in grassroots football and some of this will help to increase girl's involvement in playing the sport. The Women’s Super League will also be moved from summer to winter this year, in a bid to increase interest in women's games, The Guardian said.

Just today - with rather unfortunate timing - the FA council has backed a package of reforms, which will increase the number of women on the FA board and expand the council. No longer will the FA headquarters be a luxurious anachronism, a beer-and-sandwiches bastion for elderly white men.

So clearly, work has been and is currently being done to improve the position of women in football, to eradicate sexism just as racism has been so successfully stamped out. 

However Moyes' unfortunate joke shows there is still plenty of work to do - and, for all football's good intentions, it remains very much a man's world.