The World Cup sexism that won't go away
On Wednesday, German television channel ZDF took the remarkable step of lodging criminal proceedings against two social-media users who it says targeted Claudia Neumann, one of the channel’s leading commentators, with a barrage of sexist abuse.
Of the 16,000 journalists accredited to cover the World Cup in Russia, just 14% are women, according to FIFA, the tournament organizer.
And for some of those women working in the media at the World Cup, the past couple of weeks have been a challenging experience with reports of sexual assault, harassment and online vitriol being directed at them.
Julieth González Therán was reporting for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s Spanish news channel when a man grabbed her breast and kissed her cheek.
González Therán maintained her composure and finished her report but was left visibly angry and upset.
After posting the video on her Instagram account, González Therán called for more respect for female journalists.
“We do not deserve this treatment. We are equally as professional and deserving. I share the joy of football but we must identify the limits between affection and harassment,” she wrote.
González Therán’s story is one that female sports journalists, particularly in broadcasting, have heard all too often.
The campaign, which kicked off in March, came after Bruna Dealtry, who works for Esporte Interativo, was reporting live when a man attempted to kiss her.
“I was in Russia for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics but the World Cup has been far worse because it brings the worst out of supporters who believe it should be a male-only event,” she told CNN from Russia.
“The problem has been especially bad in the streets with fans and drunk people.
“Once I left the metro and asked a boy to walk with me because there was a group laughing and pointing at me on the train.”
“My friend and colleague was kissed before a live report on two occasions. That was the worst. No one can do this to a woman when she doesn’t consent.”
Writing on Twitter after the incident, Guimarães said: “It’s hard to find the words … Luckily, I have never experienced this in Brazil. Over here it has happened twice. Sad! Shameful!”
One female journalist told CNN she had witnessed sexual harassment in an official FIFA Fan Zone, an area that is designated for supporters to congregate before matches and watch action on the big screen.
“We went to the Fan Zone to work on an article and she was approached by at least five different men, some touched her without permission.
“One day in Red Square, a Turkish man hugged her and took a selfie with her without asking permission. I intervened and told him he couldn’t do that because it was disrespectful. He said that the photo was for his wife, as if that served as justification for the act.”
Oliveira too, has experienced strange looks and glances in the media centers from fellow journalists.
While she is unsure whether the experiences of female journalists have been worse in Russia than at previous tournaments, she wonders whether the lack of a strong feminist movement in Russia means such behavior goes unchallenged.
“In my view, there is a strong objectification of the Russian woman, who is seen as a sex symbol worldwide,” she said.
“Russian society is quite conservative and is still far behind in the defense of women’s rights.”
But it’s not just those in front of the camera who have been targeted with sexual and misogynistic abuse.
In the UK, Vicki Sparks, who made history by becoming the first woman to commentate a World Cup game live on television when she called Portugal’s win over Morocco, received a barrage of criticism.
“I found it a tough listen. I prefer to hear a male voice. For 90 minutes listening to a high-pitched tone isn’t what I want to hear,” Cundy told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“When there’s a moment of drama, which there often is in football, I think that moment needs to be done with a slightly lower voice.”
In Germany, broadcaster ZDF lodged a criminal complaint with the public prosecutor in Mainz after its commentator Claudia Neumann was subjected to a torrent of sexist abuse online.
“Certain people seem to have lost any sort of decency. Anything ‘other’ rubs them the wrong way.”
“Whether it’s female commentators or homosexual players, footballers with a migration background — some people seem to not want to accept that the old familiar things are gone.”
‘I learned very quickly’
In Australia, SBS presenter Lucy Zelic came close to breaking down on air after viewers took exception to her pronouncing the names of players correctly.
Social media was awash with criticism with some castigating Zelic, while others came to her support, including a number of immigrants to Australia thanking her for taking the trouble to pronounce names the right way.
“I learned very quickly to avoid my social media for a few weeks, to block the negativity and now, if I ever come across nastiness, they just look like words cobbled together on a screen,” she wrote in 2016.
“Some people say that only God can judge them but I tell you what, these days I am more terrified of the things I have to say about my on-air performances than I could ever be of any critics.”
Stories about players’ wives and gratuitous camera shots to attractive women in the crowd have almost become expected during any World Cup.
“It was a shock for me that there are such a small number of women covering the World Cup,” she said.
“Really, it’s such a small representation. In the media centers, when I enter, people look at me with a strange look and it’s kind of embarrassing. It happens all the time.”