“Hidden Sexism”: Scudamore’s attitude mirrored in BBC coverage of women’s football?

The Richard Scudamore affair has brought the debate over equality in football to the fore. Unfortunately his being able to keep his job as chief executive is a sign of the pervading attitude that a bit of “casual” sexism is acceptable, both within football and beyond. Scudamore’s defence is that his remarks were made in private e-mails that had to be extensively searched for by an unauthorised party- though the PA concerned claims they appeared in her e-mail inbox. Concerns over gender equality continue to be viewed by certain men as something that, as Jane Martinson has pointed out, is to be promoted in public, but is acceptable to disregard in private. There seems to be a culture of “box ticking” when it comes to women’s football and sexual equality more generally.

Scudamore has been Chief executive of the Premier League since 1999. Source: gaurdian.co.uk

Scudamore has been Chief executive of the Premier League since 1999. Source: guardian.co.uk

It’s with this knowledge of “hidden sexism” in mind that the recent coverage of women’s football on the BBC can be assessed. BBC Two now shows all of the England Women’s Team’s World Cup qualifiers live. This is no doubt a huge step in terms of making the sport accessible to a wider audience, but it’s not that straightforward.
Back on Saturday 5th April, England played Montenegro at 12:55pm. There was an unfortunate clash with an important Premier League tie between Man City and Southampton, but as a supporter of women’s football I was excited that it was getting mainstream coverage, so I looked forward to watching it.

Before the game, I tuned into Football Focus. The programme was broadcast live from Wallsend Boys Club*; a football and social club that has had among others Alan Shearer, Michael Carrick and Steve Bruce on its books as youngsters. All of the video packages of the players training and playing exclusively featured boys, and the young members of the club represented in the audience were also exclusively male. To watch it was to perhaps think that girls’ football didn’t exist. The upcoming World Cup Qualifier was mentioned only once. Host Dan Walker meekly said to camera that the women’s qualifier was live on BBC 2, this was followed by a loud and actioned-packed promotional package advertising a game in Rugby League’s Challenge Cup.


The impressive club hall from which the April 5th edition of Football Focus was broadcast. Source: bbc.co.uk

The juxtaposition of the two advertisements and Walker’s emphasis on the latter clearly implied that the physicality of men’s Rugby League was far more entertaining than women’s football. The producers of Football Focus, like Scudamore, ticked the box that campaigners like Maria Miller have created. They mentioned the live match, but arguably undermined its importance immediately after. It appears that England’s most capped player Rachel Yankey’s appearance on the show on International Women’s Day was purely to avoid an outcry.

The game itself wasn’t a thriller. England eventually ran out 9-0 winners (it could have been more) against a well-coached but vastly over-matched Montenegro side. For those harbouring “hidden” sexist views, this may have been exactly what they wanted;an excuse to point to the lack of quality and depth in the women’s game. It is these same people that will be secretly hoping that Helena Costa fails at Clermont Foot, and use it as evidence to support their hidden prejudices against women.

The Montengro Women's Football Association was only formed in 2012. The women playing against England are pioneers of the game in their country. Here Zelkja Radanovic is being attempting to hold off Jill Scott. Source: philduncanphotography.co.uk

The Montengro Women’s Football Association was only formed in 2012. The women playing against England are pioneers of the game in their country. Here Zelkja Radanovic is being challenged for the ball by Jill Scott. Source: philduncanphotography.co.uk

As a non-sexist, feminist, male I’m embarrassed to even repeat the terms that Scudamore used. There is certainly a difference in attitude between generations, but age cannot be an excuse for discriminatory attitudes. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how infrequently or privately such terms are used, figures in positions of authority undermine themselves when they perpetuate prejudices that they have to fight in public. FIFA executive committee member Moya Dodd rightly says that “it’s important for football to take sexism as seriously as it is taking racism”. The conclusion has to be reached that had Scudamore used a number of racial slurs, he would have been immediately sacked, and rightly so. Obviously sexism is seen as a much more acceptable form of discrimination at the Premier League. Through taking no action against Scudamore, the Premier League is letting down female players and supporters.

The BBC’s ambivalence toward the England qualifiers seems to be the result of similar sentiments. Joanna Tilley has commented upon how the organisation has bowed to pressure to televise the women’s game, but have done very little to promote it outside of major tournaments. The fact that the England team may win easily against a small nation shouldn’t matter. The women’s game needs promotion and support if it’s to develop. Other minority sports such as snooker and darts get the full backing of the BBC when they are broadcast. Women’s football, by contrast does not. “Hidden sexism” needs to be tackled if women’s football is to be given a fair chance. An example needed to have been made of Scudamore to make the point that it isn’t OK; sadly the opportunity has been missed.



* The point here is not to criticise Wallsend BC. It’s a fantastic organisation, run by volunteers for the benefit of both boys and girls. Whilst a junior footballer I benefited enormously from playing for similar clubs in my home town of Rugby; namely Admirals and Bilton Ajax. Football Focus contained a number of features demonstrating the excellent work that goes on at Wallsend- and rightfully won praise for this. The programme however failed to acknowledge the fact that girls also play at Wallsend, under the banner of Wallsend Girls Club.



  1. Thanks for this post Dave. You rightly raise the issue of ambivalence. BBC coverage is Verymuch informed by a 5Live editorial attitude, which is in itself evidence of the increasing tabloidisation of sports reporting. This is in large part to blame for the tokenism you identify in Football Focus and so on. People often focus on ‘progress’ within women’s football & forget Channel 4 regularly broadcast games in the 1980s. Plus the FA is very Sourthern-centric. You could argue Arsenal-centric. That has been part of the neglect of independent women’s clubs like Donny Belles. Anyway, enjoyed the post.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. I wasn’t aware that Channel 4 broadcast women’s football and a quick Google search has your book as the top as the top result! (I’ve now ordered myself a copy!). It’s interesting that you mention the 5live editorial attitude- I hardly listen to the station any more, years of listening to the drivel on 606 has put me off. The treatment of Donny Belles has been awful- it’s something that I want to look at in more detail and possibly post on in future.

  3. A critical fallout of what Jean notes as the tabloidisation of football is that, in itself, it alienates a potential female audience who simply can’t stomach the inherent misogyny within the game and the associated male ‘banter’. Whilst it might seem strange to say it, we should celebrate the exposure of Scudamore’s offences: they have aided the anti-sexist movement’s cause and not just in football. Hopefully it will not be too long before sexism attracts the same response as racism, i.e., commit it and it’s a sackable offence, although there’s still a huge distance to travel with that issue too. And let’s not forget homophobia …

    • Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Unfortunately the feminist lens is something that the vast majority of men will disregard. Men like Scudamore likely don’t stop for a second to think about how the manner in which the game is presented, as you say, alienates women. From a male perspective, I try to turn the tables and imagine how I would feel if everything was presented through a stereotypical feminine perspective. It’s then easy to see how a person could become dissaffected. Unfortunately, if I tell people that I’m a feminist and that men can also be feminists, I get extremely strange reactions. People tend to think that it is a contradiction in terms, when I see it as being equivalent with being an anti-racist. You’re definitely right when you say that sexism has a long way to go before it attracts the same ire that racism does. As for homophobia, I might tentatively argue that it has “overtaken” sexism in terms of being tackled in sport,

  4. But does the sexual bifurcation of football itself produce the sexism? You mentioned racism. Blacks and whites play football together. That is the reason why Scudamore would have been out on his ear had his comments been racist. The question football has to ask – but won’t because it is so controversial – is: Can separate ever be equal? (The US supreme court said in 1954 in regard to race it is not) And if the answer is no what can we do about it?

  5. Thanks for taking the time to read my posts. I try to tackle this question in another post on sexist laws in sport. Women and Men certainly need to compete together wherever possible, the separation of male and female archers, shooters and to a certain extent golfers is arbitrary. It’s an interesting proposition, women and men certainly could play football on the same pitch- physical differences are certainly portrayed in an exaggerated manner. In terms of the bifurcation of sports; sports are segregated because of prevailing gender stereotypes, and then perpetuate those stereotypes through their segregation.

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