A stream of guesses ensued, along with some chat about tactics. But one respondent gave the online equivalent to an exaggerated eyeroll, tweeting: “The boys. It’s been progress seeing all-female pundits for lesser group games, but I fear we are a long way off BBC or ITV doing this for major games, and ones featuring England.”
The comment came in the same week that ITV featured an all-female lineup for their coverage of Poland–Saudi Arabia last Saturday, with Karen Carney and Eni Aluko joined by host Seema Jaswal. However, for the broadcaster’s coverage of England–USA it had an all-male team in the studio, with Laura Woods and Carney pitchside.
Yvonne Harrison, the CEO of Women in Football, is careful not to criticise either broadcaster and points out that there are more female pundits, commentators and presenters at Qatar across a range of broadcasters – as well as more diversity in punditry teams.
“In a very short space of time, we’ve now got females involved in every aspect of football, both men’s and women’s, and that’s fantastic,” she says.
Alongside presenters Mark Pougatch, Woods and Jaswal, ITV has three female pundits – Aluko, Nadia Nadim and Carney – plus seven male pundits including Ian Wright, Gary Neville, Roy Keane and Graeme Souness. The BBC has presenters Gary Lineker, Gabby Logan, Mark Chapman and Kelly Cates, and female pundits Alex Scott and Laura Georges alongside 13 men in the studio including Alan Shearer, Rio Ferdinand and Jermaine Jenas. The BBC has four female commentators (plus Karen Bardsley and Jayne Ludlow on 5Live ) while ITV has an all-male commentary team.
It is a huge change from the 2014 tournament when Logan was the lone woman on the BBC, while no women were on ITV. But like other observers, Harrison has noticed that the gender balance this time around isn’t happening for every game on either broadcaster, particularly for “big ticket” matches.
“It feels condescending to say ‘wouldn’t it be great if the women got a really big game?’ – but wouldn’t it? We’ve had many female presenters and pundits smashing it out the park so it’s not like people aren’t capable. So why isn’t it happening?”
It is indisputable that this World Cup – mired in controversy and sportswashing as it may be – has nonetheless seen historic progress for women who love football. On Thursday the first all-female officiating team at a men’s World Cup took to the pitch for the match between Costa Rica and Germany, with French referee Stéphanie Frappart the first woman to referee a match in the men’s World Cup.
In a country where Qatari women are forced to get permission from a male guardian to marry, work, travel abroad and study, it mattered, and the significance was not lost on Frappart. “It’s a strong sign from Fifa and the authorities to have women referees in that country,” she said before the game.
And while some of the online response was predictably overwrought, the vast majority of the focus was on the refereeing decisions taken in the other group game, which saw a shell-shocked German team crash out of the tournament.
Jacqui Oatley, a trailblazer for women in football since she became Match of the Day’s first female commentator in 2007, this year became the first woman commentator for US World Cup telecasts, heading one of five Fox Sports broadcast teams for her 16th major football tournament.
Mid-preparation for Japan–Spain she sent a photo of the all-female lineup that featured on Fox Sports for two successive games this week, saying: “Nobody batted an eyelid!”
“I’ve noticed a real difference at this tournament compared to previous major tournaments, whether men’s or women’s,” she said. “My gender has barely been mentioned by the viewers and certainly not by colleagues – hallelujah!”
With football attracting an increasingly diverse audience, it makes sense to have teams that reflect them, she adds: “Having both men and women covering men’s and women’s football seems the obvious thing to do.”
Stephanie Hilborne, chief executive of Women In Sport applauds the “building respect for the female voice in football”, but said there was a long way to go to create equality at all levels in the sport, particularly in coaching and management.
The message of gender-balanced broadcast teams could be a powerful tool, she added: “It’s about having our dream pundit team, isn’t it? Having some of our greatest women pundits with our most respectful male pundits – so they are showing how the world should be.”