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The rising levels of abuse in women's football

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Moya Crockett
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As the profile of the women’s game rises, so have reports of harassment and sexist discrimination. 

There has been a huge rise in the number of reports of sexist behaviour in football, with cases of sexual discrimination and harassment targeting high-profile women in the game rising by almost 400%.

The data was compiled by Women in Football, which said the results were “of great concern, but sadly, not a great surprise”. The gender equality pressure group received a total of 271 reports of incidents during the 2017-18 season, with the alleged abuse happening across clubs, organisations and online.

Comments of a sexual nature, racist or gendered remarks and threats of violence were reportedly made to several prominent women in football, including players, referees, journalists and broadcasters. Alleged abuse on social media saw the biggest rise in complaints, with an increase of more than 285%.

A spokeswoman from Women in Football said that the group “regularly” supports women facing discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace, and described the new figures as “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“For every offensive tweet or comment posted and reported to us, there are dozens that aren’t,” she said.

As well as social media abuse, women working in football also had to contend with sexist abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment on match days: reported incidents on days when women’s teams were playing rose by 133.3%. Workplace incidents were also up by 112.5%. 

England’s Lionesses at the World Cup in Canada, 2015 

While some of the rise in alleged incidents could potentially be attributed to women feeling more comfortable about reporting, that’s highly unlikely to be the whole story. Rather, it seems that as the profile of women’s football has increased, so has the abuse levelled at the women participating in the sport.

Because, as we know, interest in women’s football in the UK has seen a meteoric rise in the last few years. The game really came under the spotlight in 2015, when the England national women’s team – aka the Lionesses – won bronze medals at the World Cup in Canada. Since then, record numbers of people have attended matches across top two divisions of the FA Women’s Super League.

Attendances have also risen every year for the women’s FA Cup final. Earlier this year, the final was shown live on TV for the first time, with 40,000 fans watching in the stands at Wembley.

In summary, it’s a tale as old as time. As women become more successful and prominent in a traditionally male-dominated field, they have to contend with increasing levels of harassment. 

We can only hope that clubs, organisations and social media platforms take steps to tackle the abuse aimed at women in football – and that in the meantime, those women keep on playing the beautiful game.

Images: Getty Images 

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Moya Crockett

Moya is Women’s Editor at stylist.co.uk, where she is currently overseeing the Visible Women campaign. As well as writing about inspiring women and feminism, she also covers subjects including careers, podcasts and politics. Carrying a tiny bottle of hot sauce on her person at all times is one of the many traits she shares with both Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton.

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