It’s fair to say that Gareth Southgate has become something of a national treasure. Cementing himself as a legendary England manager in the Euros this year, he’s a universally liked character who melted hearts across the country as he comforted the team’s young players with genuine compassion after their devastating defeat to Italy. A certified good egg and all round decent human being.
This is why I found his recent comments about the lack of women in certain areas of the English Football Association all the more disappointing.
Speaking at the Royal Television Society’s Cambridge Convention earlier this week, Southgate rightly said that he needs more women working with the men’s national team, acknowledging that the progress that has been made in the women’s game isn’t reflected in the make-up of his back room staff.
All good, you might be thinking? Well, not exactly.
Southgate went on to say that these comments were partly prompted by a discussion he’d had with his daughter, Mia. During their conversation, according to Gareth himself, he pointed out that things weren’t actually that bad.
He said: ‘Within the FA we are actually very diverse, gender-wise, with 38% female, I think. But as my daughter said to me: ‘Oh, that’s good is it, Dad?’ I had to say, ‘Er, good point.’
Yes Mia, very good point. 38% isn’t good. 50% would be good. 38% is actually quite bad.
Southgate continued to say that this exchange was: ‘…a great reminder of what world do I want for my daughter, what opportunities do I want for my daughter?’ He then added that having a daughter, ‘very quickly changes your outlook on the way that you view women’s sport and opportunities for women within our sport.’
As he is a lovely man (it pains me to say a bad word about him – he’s had more than his fair share of unfair criticism in the past, receiving a tirade of abuse for missing a penalty against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 96), his comments were clearly well intentioned, stating the need for change, admitting fault and taking on-board his daughter’s points.
However, despite my being a fan of Southgate and what he stands for, I can’t help but wonder why it has taken him being called out by his daughter to make him properly consider gender diversity within the FA?
And most importantly, why do you need to have a daughter in order to care about opportunities for women in sport?
Southgate has admitted that just two of his staff out of 40 who have direct involvement with the England team are women. Has he never noticed this before now?
First of all, Mia Southgate is in her early 20s. She’s by no means a new arrival, and Southgate has been managing the national team since 2016. Secondly, let’s not forget that – if we’re going to go down this route – as well as having an adult daughter, Southgate also has a wife of more than 20 years. He also has a mother and a sister.
Presumably, he also has female friends whom he respects as equal humans. What about them?
I just can’t imagine a similar conversation being had about sons
The fact that this conversation seems to have been partly pegged to praising the ‘remarkable’ success of Emma Raducanu makes it even worse.
It’s almost as though her win has reminded everyone that women are valuable in sport, too. There are countless other incredible female athletes and sports people out there. By over emphasising the ‘remarkability’ of Radacanu’s achievements, it – in some ways – denigrates the success of the women who came before her, and those who are achieving great things every single day, including behind the scenes.
The FA, and football, has always been a traditionally male dominated space – and it takes time to change things, I get that. But, more needs to be done to make women feel welcome and valued in this world. Conflating professional opportunities for women with feeling protective of your own daughter is not the way to do it.
I just can’t imagine a similar conversation being had about sons.
In fairness, over recent years, the FA – and football in general – has made big strides, with more women playing, coaching and refereeing than ever. There is a thriving professional women’s league, 50% gender representation has been achieved on the FA board and the Senior Management Team, they recently recruited a female chair and are actively working to improve gender diversity.
I fear that Southgate’s comments could unintentionally belittle the genuine work that has been done to narrow the gender gap in his organisation – it might not be the case but it suggests that it subconsciously matters to him primarily because he has a daughter to think about.
Men in positions of power surely shouldn’t need to have daughters to agree that workplaces and industries of all kinds – very much including sport – should be places of equality, offering proper opportunities to women (whether or not they are someone’s daughter/wife/mum/sister).
To state the obvious, they should value us as equal members of society, friends, and human beings, regardless of whether or not they have ever fathered a baby girl.
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