• Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Female referees in men’s football

ByKitty Moreno

Mar 2, 2024
Rebecca Welch refereeing in 2019Women's Champions League - Slavia Praha vs FC Bayern München on 20.03.2019 at Eden Arena

Back in December, Rebecca Welch made history as the first woman to referee a Premier League match. She took charge as Fulham played Burnley at Craven Cottage, and her presence on the pitch was applauded by many, including Burnley manager Vincent Kompany who celebrated it as “a benchmark and a milestone”. But while Welch’s appointment was a major step forwards for women’s visibility in top-flight men’s football, there have been instances recently that remind us why there are still so few women in men’s football.

Just weeks after Welch made this historical progress for women referees, a former player and [unemployed] manager, Joey Barton, came under fire for his sexist and derogatory remarks about female football pundits, claiming they ‘aren’t qualified’ to discuss men’s football, as well as comparing pundits Eni Aluko and Lucy Ward to serial killers Fred and Rose West. Aluko came out saying the online abuse made her scared to go out and warned of the consequences of hate speech online, citing Caroline Flack as an example of the danger of social media.

But while many criticised Barton and jumped to defend the place of women in men’s

football – ITV condemned his “vindictive remarks” in a statement on X and the sports minister Stuart Andrew labelled them “dangerous” and “not acceptable” – there is still a large portion of fans, especially online, who share Barton’s belief that women commentators are only there to tick boxes. Of course, Barton – who earned himself more yellow and red cards than games won during his time in the Premier League – may not be best placed to comment on anybody’s footballing ability, saying on X that one of the pundits was unable to “kick a ball properly”. But dangerous comments like Barton’s highlight the wider problem of sexism in football and the dangers of social media, something that women in football have spoken about previously. Former England footballer and current pundit Alex Scott recalled in an interview with Radio Times that there were“so many tweets saying I should be at home ironing or cooking” and shared her belief that “football is a better place with us all in it”. Likewise, Chelsea Women manager Emma Hayes has spoken about the systemic misogyny that remains in English football and society.

So, while spaces are beginning to open up for women in football, there remains a vocal minority who are opposed. For every woman who takes on a role in men’s football, it seems more often than not she is met with accusations of tokenism or incompetence, and online abuse. However, that doesn’t mean that we should stop trying, and women like Welch, Aluko and Ward show us that women can thrive in the football industry – and do so with dignity and without spreading hate.

File:Rebecca Welch 20190320.jpg” by EL Loko Foto is licensed under CC BY 4.0.