Football is at the heart of culture for billions of us around the world.

But how does it reflect and amplify harmful inequalities in our societies?

In the latest episode of the Life Solved podcast, researchers from the University of Portsmouth discuss how changes in the game can have an impact on wider society.

Abuse and Exclusion

Dr Tom Webb has been studying the experiences of match officials. He says that referees have historically been underfunded and marginalised in favour of players, coaches and even fans. He’s identified referee abuse as one of the major international issues in sports around the world.

The impact of this has been mental health problems, reduced participation rates and a decline in referees staying with the game. He’s even looked at how different countries and cultures relate to referees in terms of their relationships with authority:

Further research into the experiences of female officials highlighted the isolation and intimidation faced in male-dominated scenarios. This culture creates a barrier to women wishing to enter the profession or feeling they can develop there.

Opportunities for Equality

Tom works closely with Dr Beth Clarkson. Beth spent over ten years coaching elite youth football and today delivers education programmes for the premier league as well as advising on women’s football policy for Fair Game UK. She thinks her drive towards creating equality, diversity and fairness in the game came from her own experiences of playing football:

Beth has been studying the journey of British football from its evolution as a male-dominated, white, working-class preserve to an integral part of our culture. In the podcast, she explains the breadth of initiatives in place to make it a welcome and safe space for all but says more needs to be done.

Taking action for change

Beth thinks that the game can work across society to develop healthier and more inclusive narratives and that representing diverse voices and experiences is key to doing so. She and Tom have been working to bring people together to share their experiences in a safe place.

They hope that this will give a truer picture of the state of the game, allowing decision-makers to promote a healthier, safer and more inclusive sport for all.

To the full podcast and hear Beth and Tom discuss their research, search for “Life Solved” from the University of Portsmouth on your podcast app of choice, and why not share this story with a friend who might be interested.

From grassroots participation, involving ordinary people at weekends, to elite international sport competitions with an audience of millions across the globe, sport would grind to a halt without sport officials. WINS comes at a timely moment from a research perspective, there is a need to understand barriers to officiating for women and where previous interventions have worked or not worked so we can learn from that.

Dr Tom Webb, Senior Lecturer in Sports Management

From grassroots participation, involving ordinary people at weekends, to elite international sport competitions with an audience of millions across the globe, sport would grind to a halt without sport officials. WINS comes at a timely moment from a research perspective, there is a need to understand barriers to officiating for women and where previous interventions have worked or not worked so we can learn from that.

Dr Tom Webb, Senior Lecturer in Sports Management

Sport is one of the last bastions of assumed male dominance and, in football, this culture is costing the sport a lot of skills and people.

Dr Beth Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in Sports Science

Sport is one of the last bastions of assumed male dominance and, in football, this culture is costing the sport a lot of skills and people.

Dr Beth Clarkson, Senior Lecturer in Sports Science
External Audio

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