While football is Britain's fastest growing women's sport, the feeling among referees is still that "there's football and then there's women's football", the British Psychological Society's social psychology conference was told yesterday.
Dr Lindsey Patterson, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, and a keen player, analysed the behaviour of referees in 28 five-a-side association football matches each lasting 40 minutes and involving men's and women's teams.
When supervising women's games, referees' attitudes ranged from "unprintable" comments to yawning and walking off to talk to spectators.
But when it came to men's games, Dr Patterson found that the referees interacted far more with the players, and expressed solidarity with them verbally. "They would call the players mate, fella, lad, encouraging them and talking to them. There is a difficulty as there are no equivalent terms for women but the referees did not even use a safe option such as calling them by their team colours - `Go on yellow' and so on," she said.
She added that referees were also more likely to explain their decisions to male players, whereas with women they would ignore them or patronisingly recount the rule to them.
They also saw women calling fouls as "overreacting" - either believing that women did not foul deliberately but were just being a "bit clumsy" or that they could not cope with the physical nature of football and reminded the players that it was "a contact sport".
"They also saw someone brought down by a tackle as lack of skill rather than a foul," Dr Patterson said.
Their interest in the game could also seem minimal. "Some of the referees almost ignored the football, yawning or appearing bored. They also seemed to do a lot more walking off the pitch to talk to people than they did in the men's games," Dr Patterson said. "They also sometimes made questionable comments, most of which are unprintable.
"The image was that men's football was the real thing and women's was not as good," she told the psychologists. "It is still a very male-dominated area and although it is gradually improving there is still a long way to go."Reuse content