There’s probably quite a small crossover audience between The Anfield Wrap and the Radio Four programme Woman’s Hour.
Or is that me being misogynistic? Maybe I’ve missed a huge demographic as obsessed with cosmetic filling procedures and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia as it is with Jordan Henderson’s ideal position and the Andy Carroll question.
Assuming you’re not a regular listener, here’s a link to the show from last week, in which Pat Nevin and Alan Green discuss sexism in football.
The debate was triggered by the Suarez case, and you may have to grit your teeth during the introduction, but the central point is both a reasonable and a necessary one.
In all the sound and fury surrounding the FA’s ruling, the focus has been on Suarez and Liverpool’s response, while any examination of Evra has been superficial at best.
The press, having largely decided an official version of events is there to be regurgitated rather than probed or challenged, have occasionally attempted to inject some balance in to their reporting.
Unfortunately the main example of this, the Daily Mail’s ‘expose’ centring on a widely-available four-year-old YouTube clip, was as clumsy as some of the coverage which has portrayed Suarez as definitely guilty of offences not admitted, found proven or in some cases even mentioned by the FA commission.
Upon its publication the story caused a stir among plenty of Liverpool fans eager to hold it aloft as a smoking gun but it was far from damning evidence.
Yes, in the clip Evra uses the word ‘niggers’. But if you can’t see why it might be more problematic for a white man to employ the term than a black one, well, let’s just say the Mail know their readership.
Another point would be that Evra was a younger man when the clip was filmed in 2004, a man who had yet to arrive in a country where the term was significantly loaded. All mitigation. All context. All worth bearing in mind. All forgotten in a rush to judgement.
It took Woman’s Hour to point out the more fundamental question raised by Evra’s actions during the incident with Suarez.
Why is there no suggestion in the report or from the FA of bringing a charge based on the inherent sexism in the phrase with which Evra admits he opened the exchange between the players, ‘concha de tu hermana’
As the FA’s report notes, the words translate directly as ‘your sister’s cunt/pussy’ (the report prevaricates over which, and just about comes down on the side of ‘pussy’, which the panel deemed to be less offensive.)
Ah, the report adds, this might be unpleasant but linguistic experts assure us it’s a relatively harmless curse in a Hispanic context, equivalent to something like ‘fucking hell’.
Very probably true. Yet should this matter? After all, in the case of racism, as the report itself states:
“it is the Commission’s task to decide whether the use of the word in England is abusive or insulting. The use of the word in a particular way might be seen as inoffensive by many in Uruguay. The same use of the same word in England might nevertheless be abusive or insulting”
Why should this not apply to sexist language? How do cultural differences explain away the use of the female genitalia in a derogatory fashion but provide no basis for mitigation in a racism case?
I’m not arguing this is all some big conspiracy. I’m not even arguing Evra could necessarily be charged, as the game is so far behind society in this that it barely has the regulatory apparatus with which to frame a case.
If the FA were in uncharted waters in dealing with the Suarez case, they might as well be neck-deep in the Sea of Tranquility when it came to Evra.
So it’s probably easier for them to let it go. And nobody’s too fussed, apart from a few women who won’t go the match anyway.
Meanwhile, Manchester City get 36,000 for a cup semi-final. Everton can’t sell out for the Derby. Empty seats are multiplying at Old Trafford.
You might not be a feminist. You might hold the kind of views Mike Newell expressed and Paul Jewell hinted at (but Harry Kewell, disappointingly for poetry fans, did not). That’s up to you. But I love football and want it to thrive, to grow stronger as a true people’s game – not just 50 per cent of the people’s game.
Just as great strides have been made against racism through organised campaigns and high-profile figures speaking out, so it must be time for fans of good conscience to make inroads into eradicating sexism.
Let’s be honest – while morality has been an important factor behind anti-racism campaigns, the underlying consideration for clubs and national associations has been the profit motive. Black people who are good at football help make the game a better product, and ensure the cash keeps flowing from global markets. Nothing can be allowed to jeopardise that. Fortunately moral good and capitalist aims coincide nicely in this area.
Because women can’t play the professional game, they’re too often sidelined and forgotten, those who do come to grounds taken for granted and those who don’t simply ignored.
The FA would not have to charge Evra, though that would satisfy the tribalist in many of us. Some recognition that what he said was, as the FA might put it, both ‘abusive and insulting’ might help show that maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but one day football might start taking all forms of prejudice seriously.