I have followed the story about Mark Sampson, the now sacked England’s women’s football coach with interest. Apparently he had conducted himself inappropriately with female players whilst coaching at Bristol prior to gaining the England job, with the FA seemingly or allegedly turning a blind eye prior to his appointment. This leading on from alleged racial abuse allegations that were becoming better-substantiated by the day.
This led to calls for the umpteenth time for root and branch reform of the FA. Which it was said by some (like BBC pundit Danny Mills) could fix this. But this overlooks one massively important fact: the culture of football is horrendously misogynistic. This may only clearly surface via instances such as this, or the terrible Ched Evans trial, or when leading Sky commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys got caught on microphone uttering their standard offensively sexist “banter”. However, I would reckon upon such attitudes to women being very deeply seated.
And football is not alone. Rugby has seen its own allegations. Some underway at the moment involve a player capped many times by Ireland. And as a former professional rugby player (albeit for a short and remarkably unsuccessful period) I can say that attitudes towards women were not particularly healthy.
This all comes following the fall-out within our party surrounding Sarah Champion’s comments seeking to “tackle head on” alleged problems with Pakistani men raping white women. I felt those comments were unnecessarily incendiary, and lacked the nuance required to properly take the situation forward.
What we had in the Rochdale, Rotherham and now Newcastle cases were groups of men, who were subject to a certain set of cultural dynamics who went on to commit systematised rape and sexual assault. To reduce that to a generalised problem across the Pakistani community as if that community were not in any way influenced by either specific local dynamics affecting the men involved (many of whom were not Pakistani), or by other prevailing norms existing in Britain today, is unhelpful.
Whilst of course the order of severity in the matters Sarah Champion was addressing was far far higher, than the Sampson example, or my experience of moderate misogyny in sports, what those latter examples speak of is a prevailing status quo across many all-male groups and cultures in our country. That is created by a complex mix of gender behaviours, roles, and stereotypes, all perpetuated or exacerbated by the media and society. The same media and the same society that the men in Rochdale, Rotherham and Newcastle were exposed to and existed in.
Of course, specific groups should be investigated when there is cause to investigate. But steps must be taken to address unhealthy attitudes to women and equality in whichever group or domain it arises. Doing so would help to destroy the foundations upon which such behaviour is built.