By Saskia Collins
In true English fashion, during any major international footballing tournament a team of pundits will gather, whether that be Alan Shearer and Phil Neville on the BBC sofa or a bunch of friends down the local, to offer their half time verdict on the annoyances of England’s performance. Despite common themes of heartbreak and frustration in these intense discussions, they remain an integral and nation-defining element of the emotional rollercoaster that is supporting England.
How is it then, that in a nation where both men and women, people of all heritages, ages and social backgrounds unite to get behind the Three Lions that professional female commentators of the game are still being questioned?
In a column for the I Newspaper this week, Simon Kelner questions whether current Juventus forward, Eni Aluko, and former Arsenal defender, Alex Scott’s inclusion in ITV and the BBC’S World Cup punditry teams was a gender diversity box ticking exercise, rather than on the merit of their knowledge and commentating skill.
If this is the case, the women are undeniably proving the broadcast bosses wrong. The pair have been widely commended for their well-researched and opinionated evaluations of matches, providing a breath of fresh air to the all-too-frequent dull and lacklustre punditry from staple commentators made up of former players and managers of the game. I think I speak for everyone when I say I’d much rather watch paint dry than relive Glen Hoddle’s commentary on England v Lithuania last year…
Yet this is not the first time Aluko has been invited to pundit on male football, working at Euro 2016 and the Women’s Euros last year – so why is she standing out now? Because the women are showing the boys up at their own game.
Sadly, the fact remains that some feel uncomfortable with women commentating on a male sport. Legendary female sport commentator Jacqui Oatley, the first ever female commentator on Match of the Day, has continually been subject to sexist insults whilst simply doing her job. Being shamelessly told to get back into the kitchen when covering Euro 2016, men are still voicing their issues on her position with one man complaining to the Sheffield Star earlier this year that her inclusion in the number of female reporters (a mere six) “irritated him”. Oatley, all too used to this abuse, disregarded the remark, positively stating, “In another 10 years it will just be the norm… You’ll have men working in the women’s game and women working in the men’s and that’s all it will be: just football.”
However, Kelner offers his verdict that females commentating on the men’s game is problematic for some due to the male and female game being very different, going as far as to say it would be like commentating on netball and major league baseball. This, integrally, remains the issue within itself.
But as Scott rightly put it: “football’s football”, whether you grow up as a boy or girl you watch the sport, analysing it in its own right. She admits she hasn’t been a part of the men’s game but she’s experienced the same emotions as a World Cup player through penalty shoot-outs and bench-warming. Scott’s former England manager Hope Powell installed into the team that you had to be a “student of the game”, constantly analysing other teams performances. Sounds strikingly similar to a pundit’s job, don’t you think?
Only a small amount of women are considered for high-profile punditry positions because they haven’t been provided with enough platforms, encouragement and, most importantly, female role models in similar jobs to aspire to. With male football being vastly more popular than the female game, average players walk into punditry following their retirement, while female legends of the sport hardly get air time on the field let alone the commentary seat.
Therefore, whether the broadcast big bosses’ decision toITV include females in this year’s World Cup punditry teams was indeed to satisfy mixed gender representation, despite honest intentions, it needed to be done. Regardless of Aluko and Scott proving themselves more than capable for the job, kids growing up, girls and boys, need to see females in those positions so it becomes the norm.