It was a simple question which BBC reporter Vicki Sparks put to David Moyes following Sunderland’s goalless draw against Burnley. Moyes’ team are rock-bottom in the Premier League, and look certain to be relegated. With that in mind, had the presence of owner Ellis Short in the stands unnerved him? “No,” he answered. And that’s where he should have left it.
But once the cameras stopped filming, the Sunderland manager issued a thinly veiled threat to Sparks.
“It was getting a wee bit naughty at the end there so just watch yourself… You still might get a slap even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in.”
Many were quick to defend Moyes, pointing to his seemingly jokey tone of voice and the fact that both interviewer and interviewee laugh at the end of the clip. Sparks did not make a complaint and later accepted the manager’s apology. On BBC Radio 5 Live, Andy Townsend was asked what he thought of the comments.
“Context is everything in this sort of situation… Listening to it, it didn’t sound like it was meant to intimidate.”
Townsend is right to an extent – context is everything. Except that in this case the context is a misogynistic culture which stretches back years in football, from Richard Keys and Andy Gray to chants directed at Eva Carneiro, rather than whether Moyes intended to threaten Sparks.
It is the context in which Moyes still refers patronisingly to the reporter in question as a “girl,” even when apologising in front of the press. According to some, this is not the first time the former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad boss has overstepped the line with female journalists.
There are worrying parallels between this incident and the Keys and Gray scandal, when a series of sexist comments forced the pair out of Sky. The idea that Moyes was merely joking is just as bad as Keys dismissing the remarks he and his co-commentator made as “just banter,” and should not be an excuse.
Regardless of whether Moyes’ words were said in jest, they read as bullying. As The Guardian’s Louise Taylor writes, ‘it is almost impossible to imagine Moyes directing the same words towards a male reporter.’ Indeed, when male journalists asked the same question of him in the post-match press conference, the Sunderland boss replied calmly.
The situation has improved vastly in the past few years, but the statistics are still damning. A survey conducted last year by the campaigning organisation Women in Football found that 61 percent of women involved in the game had witnessed sexism in the workplace and that 46 percent had experienced it.
With those numbers in mind, along with the assertion by one respondent that the issue is “endemic,” Moyes’ comments are wholly unacceptable. Football has an incredible power to unite people and bring joy, but, six years on from Keys and Gray, sexism is still very much alive in the game. The sooner we realise this and work to eradicate it, the better.
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons