It’s been a tough week for men. Poor things. They’ve been desperately trying to break into the world of football punditry for years but, time and again, have been overlooked in favour of women. Just this week, we saw an all-female panel dissecting the Women’s World Cup live on national television. Four knowledgeable women, stood there brazenly, without a single man in sight. For crying out loud, won’t someone help men break the glass ceiling?
Of course, I’m being facetious in the face of a row that broke out this week, following a tweet by Rebekah Vardy, that suggested the BBC was being sexist. The wife of England striker Jamie, posted a screenshot of the all-female presenting panel during the England v Scotland game on Sunday, writing “Umm what happened to equality…”
Nevermind that the coverage was hosted by Gabby Logan, along with former England defender Alex Scott, ex-Scotland international Gemma Fay and retired USA keeper Hope Solo. A line-up featuring an England legend, a Scotland player with a record 203 caps and arguably the best female goalie of all time.
If that’s not good enough, what is?
At a moment when we should be celebrating the huge strides being taken in women’s football - with the World Cup on the Beeb, the Lionesses getting the attention they deserve, and women finally being allowed to air their opinions about football on national TV - how sad that anyone’s reaction to four female pundits doing a brilliant job is “but what about the poor men?” Talk about an own goal.
A panel full of women is not positive discrimination, it’s a breakthrough. And about time.
Alex Scott has been a fantastic addition to the Match of the Day team and a real trailblazer. Her insight during the men's world cup, last summer, was a breath of fresh air. In response to Rebekah Vardy, she posted: “Maybe you missed the France v South Korea game” alongside a photo of a Women’s World Cup panel this week that included male co-presenter Dion Dublin.
Good - I’m all for mixed-sex panels. Women’s sport is not just for women. It’s really important that the male presenters and pundits come on board. We need to harness their profiles and expertise to help push the women’s game to where it should be.
But why should that be at the expense of all-female punditry line-ups? Men have had years to build up the sort of credibility that these women are now striving for - so there does need to be some redressing the balance. It must be a team effort in the truest sense of the phrase.
The FA banned women’s football in 1921, essentially outlawing it in England for 50 years. No wonder it’s lagging so far behind. Huge movements are needed to bring it up to speed - that means increased coverage, equality for female players, more sponsorship and the best commentary teams of both sexes.
Rebekha Vardy later said that her tweet had been misconstrued - and perhaps it was just clumsy. But the reaction she sparked included people Photoshopping images of irons and piles of laundry into the original image, writing "that's better." Much of the conversation she sparked was regressive and sexist.
That we are seeing a boost for women's football should be cause for celebration and cheer - as should the fact that the Lionesses won their first match on Sunday. “Where are the men?” is the sort of negative reaction we just don’t need, and does nothing to help women.