Women tell Gazza: play on, but don't hit Sheryl

England's selection of Paul Gascoigne to play in yesterday's international - just days after he assaulted his wife - has won the support of the nation's women despite the attack, according to a MORI poll for the Independent on Sunday.

More than half of those questioned endorsed the footballer being picked for the national squad's game against Georgia, even though it was known that he had hit his wife, Sheryl, leaving her with severe facial bruising and dislocated fingers.

Gascoigne gave an uncontroversial performance in England's 2-0 victory, playing a part in the build-up to both goals.

MORI interviewed 772 women last week. Asked whether allegations of domestic violence should or should not have prevented Gascoigne from being selected to play for England, 51 per cent said it should not have done, while 43 per cent said it should have stopped him being picked.

The endorsement of Gascoigne's selection yesterday surprised some leading female commentators but pleased others who believe the man needs treatment more than punishment, and highlighted women's fears about the connection between football and violence.

One of the player's sternest critics claimed that the poll proved Gazza had charmed people with his "little boy lost" apology for his behaviour. Gascoigne had told a hastily arranged press conference at the England training ground that "I deeply regret what happened with Sheryl. It will live with me for the rest of my life".

Julie Bindel, of Justice for Women, had been one of the first to call for the footballer to be thrown out of the England side. Yesterday, on the eve of the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Women's Citizenship, which she is helping organise, Ms Bindel said: "I'm surprised and disappointed by the poll. I imagine that women would have been swayed by his apology and little boy lost pose. Women are still too tolerant of men's bad behaviour. It is far easier for women to excuse this kind of behaviour than to expect men to change."

Others, however, believe that giving a man like Gascoigne the opportunity to alter their behaviour is far more important that punitive action.

Susie Orbach, the psycho-therapist, said: "These women [interviewed for the poll] have a profound understanding that people don't change through punishment but through coming to terms with themselves.

"The good thing about this issue is that it has been a vehicle for putting domestic violence on the agenda."

Other prominent women agreed with Ms Orbach that wholesale punishment of Gascoigne would serve no purpose. Helena Kennedy QC said: "I would think this poll shows that women have been reassured by him asking for treatment. They want the football organisations to take it seriously - not for him to be sacked but perhaps to suffer a temporary suspension.

The novelist Maureen Freely also urged society to tackle the insidious problem of wife-beating, but suggested that Gascoigne should not be shunned. "He's not going to get rehabilitated if he feels that he is a pariah," she said.

Others felt the women polled in the survey had let down members of their own sex. Marcelle d'Argy Smith, the writer and former editor of Cosmopolitan, said: "There are probably women who think "silly bitch" for being involved with a man like Gazza. But the attitude of men is disturbing too. It's sickening the way in which football, a game, is bigger than anything, and a woman being beaten to a pulp can be dismissed as less important.

"Men are only ever interested in balls: footballs and their own."

Match report, back page

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