An ode to the plight of female football managers and their struggle for recognition
Back in August, Arsene Wenger gave a rather strong statement in favour of hiring female football managers for clubs playing in the most watched, most competitive league in the world — the English Premier League. He seemed to have used the words “convinced” and “soon” in the same sentence. To be fair to his male counterparts, and alas, in the need to ‘play it safe' he stuck to saying “a female manager.”
In addition to that — "It happens to all of us that we are managed at home by women!”
We must, however, emphasize Wenger’s quantum and positivity… Only to be disappointed by the sheer negligence by the FA or the UEFA on account of hiring zero female football managers and hardly any female football match officials.
Not one of the 92 football clubs in England has employed a female coach. Worse even, only three of the 10 team managers in the Women’s Super League 1 are women. A staggering 1,484 men in England hold a UEFA A coaching license in an outrageous contrast to the mere 29 who are women.
Numbers aren’t the only discouraging facts. Sexist remarks, tones, and behaviours of anchors and commentators (for example Andy Gray, Richard Keys), managers themselves (for example Jose Mourinho, David Moyes), players and match officials alike or even fans reflect the bitter reality. This is strikingly heightened for women who choose to manage the ‘opposite gender’ — they are subjected to acute tokenism, financial discrimination and even sexual harassment.
Why is Female Participation Important?
If female sports teams can be managed by men, why then is the vice versa considered to be such a taboo? With immense popularity and fan following at its disposal, why is the Premier League not taking the required steps towards making football, and sports in general, more inclusive and egalitarian?
Not only will pulling such a thing off prove to be extremely beneficial for the League itself, it will also revolutionize the world and change mindsets. It will make the League truly competitive. By being all-inclusive, more and more people will accept the League and appreciate their representation in it.
Crowds will become bigger, more diverse. Publicity and media ratings will go up. And who knows? The skills and abilities women bring to the table might even better the quality and temperament of the game.
Not only that. It will also unlock career paths for women all around the world. It will be enthrallingly empowering to run male-dominated clubs as managers in a male-dominated industry! This is the kind of a cultural shift and encouragement that women in managerial sports need. Aspiring female managers will have agendas to achieve and role models to look up to.
Also read: Jodie Taylor: The apple of England's eye
The Big Names?
Ever heard of the likes of Shelley Kerr, Helena Costa, Hope Powell, Pia Sundhage, Patrizia Panico, Carolina Morace, Corinne Diacre, Laura Harvey, Emma Hayes, Maryam Irandoost?
Shelley Kerr, an ex Scotland player, coached Scotland Women’s Under-19 National team before joining Arsenal Ladies. The Club bagged the FA Women's Cup and the Continental Cup. It finished third in the league during the 2013 season under her management. In 2014, Kerr became the first British female to coach the men’s senior football of Stirling University, contending in Lowland League.
Helena Costa is the first female ever to coach a men’s side. She managed French Ligue 2 club Clermont Foot 63 for nearly a month. She stepped down under a volley of misogynist taunts. She also managed Benfica’s youth team from 1997-2010, where they secured the second spot in the National Championship in 2005. Later she joined Celtic FC and has coached the Women’s National side of Qatar and Iran.
Hope Powell, an original Bend It Like Beckham girl from South London was never meant to play football, let alone become a manager. Having conquered racist and sexist hurdles, she went on to become the first British woman to win the FIFA World Coach of the Year in 2012, the first female educator of PFA, and the first full-time female England Women’s head coach in 1998.
Pia Sundhage is a former Swedish international and manager of the Swedish Women’s National side. She was also the head coach of the United State’s Women’s National Team from 2008 to 2012, winning two Olympic Golds. Having secured the second place at the World Cup, Pia was nominated for the Women’s football World Coach of the year in 2012.
Patrizia Panico became the first woman to manage a men’s national side when she was appointed head coach of the Italian Under-16 side. A legend in Italian women’s football, she has her name installed in the Italian Hall of Fame in 2015.
What Must Be Done?
These are just a few remarkable female managers who have proven the haters wrong. These women as examples of excellence; though still not given the deserved attention and a positive and encouraging work environment, trudge along believing in the true spirit of sports. Their fervor and handwork are no less than that of their male counterparts.
The best way to encourage this effort is firstly by providing affirmation to legal and monetary support. Laws for equal pay and financial backup must be ratified. Introducing the Rooney Rule in the Premier League could show exceptional results.
Gender sensitization and creating awareness must go hand in hand with sports to produce sensitive, well-rounded, conscious sportspeople. Camps and training programs should be free of prejudice and affordable.
More than anything, change comes from the top — The FA did not have a single woman on their board up until 2011. Even in the current 12 member-board, just one of the members is a woman.
Adequate representation in policy-making acts as a catalyst for women’s progress in the world of sports. Football summits concerning these issues must be organized and authorities must take actions on these deliberations.
It’s been almost half a year since Arsene Wenger’s remarks saw the light of the media. Did it create the right kind of a buzz? Did it have the required effect on the public? What does it take to be provided with your due? How many more women will it take? How many more of these obstacles thwart evolution? How many more years till we see a woman managing a major Premier League side?
Also read: 11 of the best women footballers of all time