In 2011, Sepp Blatter had a very Sepp Blatter moment when he insisted that there is no on-the-field racism in football, and that therefore players who feel as though they're being racially abused should simply shake hands, shrug and accept that it's just a game.
Yet players continue to allege that their opponents have made racist remarks. And since they're not receiving support from FIFA, footballers are taking matters into their own hands, walking off the pitch or eating bananas thrown at them by racist fans.
Meanwhile, despite Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes, which prohibits discrimination of any kind, the organization refuses to take a firm stand against homophobia. Playing upcoming World Cups in Russia and Qatar is fine, Blatter says, because gay fans should simply "refrain from any sexual activities." Goodness knows how any gay footballers, required to attend tournaments as part of their job, are expected to feel about traveling to countries that have made it illegal to be themselves.
Players have been taking a stand against racism; they're doing so as well here. Last autumn, players in England and Scotland wore rainbow laces in their boots, trying to send a message of support to homosexuals who feel it is unacceptable to reveal their sexuality while still playing the game.
Then there's sexism. The players are less help here, because it's less immediately applicable to them, but that doesn't make it less of a problem. When the Premier League's chief executive was caught having sent emails containing derogatory comments about women, including references to a female colleague, the league insisted its working environment was not sexist.
Earlier this year, a survey conducted involving women working in football found more than two-thirds had experienced some form of sexual discrimination. But Blatter insists his organization promotes the careers of women. After all, there are now three women on FIFA's executive committee. A committee of 28, by the way.
Eva Carneiro, Chelsea's club doctor, believes women are being discouraged from taking up leadership roles in their chosen professions. A glance around club boardrooms, a look at coaching staffs, a listen to commentary of a match, a scan of bylines -- all will reveal that women aren't adequately represented in soccer.
But it's not just the boardrooms that are holding women back. Fans, too, shape the sport. It's tough to watch a Chelsea match without being subjected to men objectifying Dr. Carneiro each and every time the camera sweeps past her. Laura Williamson, football writer at the Daily Mail, receives so much abuse regarding her stories that the website has to filter the misogynistic vitriol. With such abuse so common, why would women want to pursue such careers?
This isn't just limited to public figures. It's happening in bars, on Twitter, in forums, in the stands. As long as women are being told they don't understand the game, that they aren't capable of appreciating a player for more than his looks, or that their primary role in soccer is to be the one serving food and drinks, they'll never to be able to advance to fill greater roles in management, medicine or media.
That's why, in the buildup to the World Cup, women have every right to be outraged by "joke" posts circulating the Internet. You know the ones. They're lists of rules women need to follow when a man is watching the tournament. There are multiple versions, but the majority of them involve women needing to be silent during the games, to be available to stock the fridge with beer and to provide sexual favors.
I understand that this is meant to be a joke, something "meant to provoke laughter or cause amusement." But the only people it can possibly amuse are the misogynists.
World Cup 2014
World Cup 2014
I'm a woman; I'm interested in and write about soccer, and so I face this sort of discrimination every day. On social media, in critiques of my writing, when out watching a game in public. And I'm not alone. Nearly every female fan I've spoken with has a similar tale. We've been bullied. We've been the brunt of (bad) jokes. We've had our opinions ridiculed and dismissed.
Based on one single, solitary criteria: Our gender.
So it's time to create a new list of rules. And this one isn't a joke. Instead, it's a considered approach to reducing sexual discrimination in the sport of football, starting with the fans. The more women are treated as equals in discussion, the easier it will be for them to progress in other areas of the sport.
10 Rules for (interacting with) Women during the World Cup
1) Throw out the litmus test. Don't make me "prove my worth" as a fan by explaining to you how the offside rule works, or giving you a rundown on the history of Aston Villa. When you find out that the new guy at work is a Liverpool fan, do you really make him recite the offside rule before sitting down and discussing the merits of Luis Suárez?
2) Cameramen: your job is not to scan the crowd for large-breasted women jumping up and down. Everyone else: you do not need to hoot, holler, point at the TV or post screenshots of female football fans you find attractive. To focus on women as though they are unique in a mass of supporters only reinforces the notion that this sport belongs to one gender.
3) Don't ask me where my boyfriend is. Like you, I'm here to watch the game. I'm not here trying to impress someone, or because some columnist recycled an out-of-date list of good places to meet men.
4) Along the same lines, when I applaud a good shot or a pinpoint pass, please don't ask whether I fancy the player. Let's be honest, these are men in prime physical condition -- you probably fancy them too. But if all we were after was a glimpse of Cristiano Ronaldo's abs, we could sit at home searching Google. Asking a woman whether she finds a player attractive is just another way of belittling the apparently preposterous idea that she could have a genuine interest in the game.
5) And if I refuse to be drawn into your ridiculous questions regarding the fancibility of men on the pitch, don't assume I'm a lesbian. In fact, don't assume I'm a lesbian, period. Sexuality has nothing to do with an individual's ability to watch or analyze a soccer match.
6) Never ask me to give up my prime-viewing seat so your friend, who "actually wants to watch the game," can sit facing the TV. Wrap your head around the fact that women compose an ever-growing segment of the football-watching population, and aren't just turning up at the pub to have a girly chat while the men watch the match.
7) Put aside words like "girly," "pussy" and "bitch." Mocking a player by likening him to half the world's population isn't funny. Neither is using "feminine" as a synonym for "weak."
8) Don't tell me I know a lot about football "for a girl." There's no need for qualifiers. I either know the game, or I don't.
9) No, I'm not going to take my top off. And no, I don't find the fact that you asked charming or adorable. Women want to watch football. They don't want to become a sideshow object to be admired when there's a temporary break in play (also see Rule #2).
10) Finally, stop telling me to learn to take a joke when you've done any or all of the above. It's not a joke when I'm the object of unwanted attention, of condescending remarks, of unwarranted assumptions. The World Cup is a high a soccer fan reaches only once every four years. When women aren't able to enjoy the tournament due to routine acts of discrimination, it's no laughing matter.