Comment: After PSG manager Laurent Blanc offends female reporter, it's ime to show male chauvinism the red card

Laurent Blanc's comments to a female reporter typify football's patronising view of women, says Emily Dugan

Emily Dugan@emilydugan
Friday 20 December 2013 02:00
Game of two halves: Laurent Blanc seemed amazed a woman understood football
Game of two halves: Laurent Blanc seemed amazed a woman understood football

Do you know the difference between 4-4-2 and 4-3-3? What about the definition of the offside trap? Or what Total Football means? If the answer to any of the above is yes, then, according to a leading figure in French football, you are either: a) a man; or b) a female freak of nature.

Laurent Blanc, the manager of David Beckham's erstwhile club Paris Saint-Germain, has become the latest in a growing list of old men to suggest that it is extraordinary for a woman to understand The Beautiful Game.

In an interview with Johanna Frändén, a reporter for the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet, Mr Blanc thought it was worth commenting on the fact that a football reporter understood, er, football. Ms Frändén had grilled the manager and former World Cup winner on having recently switched his team's formation. "Women talking football tactics, it's so beautiful," he said in response. "I find that fantastic. And what's more, you know what 4-3-3 means, don't you?"

Her reply, that it was her job to know what it meant, was met with a rapid backtrack. "I mean," he said, "there are a lot of ways of playing. I was just joking."

Ms Frändén says the episode was "far from the most egregious or shocking" example of sexism she has been confronted with. Her experience of working in Italy, Spain and France in recent years has shown that "comments on gender and appearance in football journalism are still commonplace".

These jibes are, she says, a "reflection of an industry where men have been interviewing men about football since the dawn of time – and where the rest of us are still exotic elements in the great masculine football family". That "football family" extends far beyond the dressing rooms and press booths. Its prejudices will be familiar to any women involved in football – whether as players, commentators or amateur enthusiasts.

When hopping around on crutches after tearing my ankle ligaments this year, I was amazed by the number of (male) cabbies who joked that I must have hurt it playing football. As it happened, that is exactly what I'd done. But their assumption that I had tottered off a pair of heels – and that for a woman to play the game was laughable – gave me a brief insight into its ingrained image as a man's game.

The problem goes right to the top. Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, suggested in 2004 that female footballers should play in tighter, skimpier clothes to attract more viewers. For anyone unfamiliar with the wording of his "hotpants" gaffe, it is worth revisiting to get an idea of the sexism at the upper echelons of the game.

"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball," he said. "They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?"

Though Sepp Blatter remains at the helm of Fifa, things are changing elsewhere. At the BBC, presenters such as Gabby Logan and Jacqui Oatley are regular, respected commentators, and this year the broadcaster made sure that, for the first time, every game of the Uefa Women's Championship (Women's Euro 2013) was aired.

There are hopeful signs that it is dawning on the footballing world that the game does not just belong to men. If only it could happen a little faster.

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