There is no insecure feeling in the women’s Eredivisie, but misconduct
If Twente’s Maud Rutgering had objected to every sexist remark, her career would have been over long ago. “We footballers have to fight hard for the same rights as men. You don’t see that so intensely in any other sport. On a daily basis, we’re faced with the fact that we’re not taken seriously.”
For the first time, research has been conducted on the social climate in the Eredivisie women’s league, against the backdrop of concerns that exist across all major sports about inclusion and offensive behaviour. The Mollier Institute will present the results on Tuesday. None of the respondents said they felt insecure, but the majority (six out of ten) indicate that they themselves have experienced bullying, discrimination, intimidation and/or abuse of power – at least once in the 2021-2022 season.
“everyone is lesbian”
“Football is a male world,” says Rutgering. “If you end up there as an athlete, you’ll have to deal with prejudices. Plus, women’s football doesn’t have the most feminine image. So we hear that ‘everyone should be a lesbian’ and that we have ‘big asses.’ It’s clear that our sport It is developing at a tremendous pace, but the picture is not changing at the same pace.
About a quarter of respondents believe that little attention is paid to combating unwanted behaviour. The Mulier Institute’s online survey was distributed to 230 Premier League players at the end of last year. In the end 45 footballers completed it. According to researcher Agnes Elling, a response rate of 20 percent isn’t low. “Because the group of respondents is small, we mainly present the results in absolute numbers.”
Athletes indicate that during their career they mainly received information about a healthy lifestyle, doping and match-fixing: 31, 28 and 26 players, respectively, answered in the affirmative. They receive less education on topics related to unwanted behavior, such as discrimination (5) and abuse of power (2). “It’s quite strange, because in this particular area a lot can be prevented up front,” Elling says. Players would like to see that they and their coaches receive more information about sexual harassment and other forms of offensive behaviour.
Is there fear?
Only six participants agreed with the statement “Intimidation and/or abuse of authority occurs regularly in the Eredivisie women’s league”. Claudia van den Heiligenberg of the players’ union VVCS was not surprised. For example, the former Dutch national team and Ajax player said that there were several reports last season of intimidating behavior “within a certain club”. You won’t say which one. KNVB contacted the club about this and reports were sent to the Center for Safe Sport Holland (CVSN). “This season there was such a case again, but then the players were not willing to submit an official report. Is it because of fear or they don’t know where?”
“What also makes it difficult is that a lot of young women play in this competition. A sixteen-year-old girl sitting in front of a board or coach can get scared easily. Maybe a parent or supervisor should always be present.”
One of the respondents wrote in her explanation: “Colossal abuse of power by the coach and the inability to go to someone from the club.” Van den Heiligenberg believes that this is a recognizable statement. “Structures for reporting,” as the Moliere Institute points out, are poorly known and not visible.
Hotlines that no one knows about
Only half of the players know that a secret contact is active in their club. Even six footballers answered in the negative when asked if there was such a person within their association, while all clubs in the women’s Eredivisie had such a person who could be contacted confidentially. Also, fewer players are aware of the same official within the KNVB (4 participants) and even fewer (3) know of the existence of the Center for Safe Sports in the Netherlands.
Van den Heiligenberg calls this anxiety. “What good are hotlines if no one knows about them? All subsidies from the ministry in this area go to CVSN. Wouldn’t it be better to divide that money over sports? Then the lines would be much shorter.” In this regard, she is also curious about what the KNVB will do with these findings. “It is a licensing requirement from the federation that every club have a confidential contact person. Apparently they are not visible enough. How is that checked? Good time to find out what we can do with the KNVB.”
Transnational behavior, in all its manifestations, remains a difficult topic. It is clear that risk factors are high in major sports. There is a certain hierarchy in nature, it is a very attractive world, very competitive, with many changing rooms and showers.
“It remains a gray area,” Van den Heiligenberg admits. “What one player perceives as intimidation, for example, is not felt by another. That also makes it very difficult to discuss them.” “It’s often on edge,” adds researcher Elling. In particular, it is the seriousness of the accidents that explains, according to them, the seemingly paradoxical result: not an insecure feeling, but misconduct.
As an example of discrimination, the player gives the misogynistic way the referee communicates. Football players from the staff are often subjected to abuse of power: the coach and the coach. Insults and bullying from opponents and spectators as well as from teammates. One participant stated that he wouldn’t take this personally, “because it’s part of the feeling of football.”
In line with this, Eiling comments on the fact that no one notes that he feels insecure. “We know from other studies that you’re socially integrated into the best sports. You think something is part of it at that level. That’s why things aren’t reported until afterward.” You think the neutral category should really be questioned: Five participants ticked this box when asked if they felt safe in the current football environment. “This indecision indicates that things must improve.”
However, it is remarkable that no one says they feel insecure, given the Overmars affair at Ajax and the recent scandals in other countries. In the United States, for example, it was announced last October that several coaches in the National Women’s Soccer League were guilty of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct.
Ruutigering believes that women’s football in the Netherlands is more relaxed. “In America, there is a lot of money involved. When interests weigh more heavily, there is often stronger leadership and therefore more room for misconduct. We want to get more professional, but we’re not quite there yet.”
The only girl in the soccer club
Respondents rated combating sexism by clubs and unions as less beneficial than discouraging racism and acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality. Roetgering wasn’t surprised. “Sometimes the abrasive male-to-female ratio is less prominent.”
How did she learn to deal with her on her own? “I come from the time when I was the only girl in the soccer club,” says the 30-year-old. “I don’t know of anything different. It wasn’t always fun, but if something happens too much, you just let it slip away. Then at some point you don’t hear it anymore. But actually that habituation is bad, because of course it’s not natural.”
Meryl Van Dongen: Borders are crossed because we are women, not because we are looking for gold
Cases of violations are also piling up in women’s football. America last week, Spain and Ajax last month. International Meriel van Dongen explains what makes her sport so unique. “We are in a stronghold of men, which brings with it all sorts of problems.”
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