Football clubs in ‘dark ages’ over gender equality – report

Just 11.1 per cent of board members at Premier League clubs are women, the report found.

By Press Association Published: 14 June 2022 - 3.51pm

Gender equality in English football is “in the dark ages” and is contributing to the sport’s failing finances, according to a new report.

A study called ‘The Gender Divide That Fails Football’s Bottom Line: The Commercial Case for Gender Equality’ found two-thirds of England and Wales’ leading clubs have all-male boards.

The report, published on International Women’s Day by the Fair Game group which is made up from 34 clubs across the pyramid, found clubs to be “hugely naive” when it comes to catering for and marketing to female fans, and that they are missing out on vital revenue as a result.

The report found just 11.1 per cent of board members at Premier League clubs were women, dropping to just 4.2 per cent in the Championship. This compares to 39.1 per cent on the boards of FTSE 100 companies.

In November, the Football Association reported that clubs and governing bodies signed up to the Football Leadership Diversity Code (FLDC) had collectively failed to hit any of the recruitment targets set related to women in the scheme’s first 10 months.

FLDC targets related to recruiting females in senior leadership, team operations and women’s club coaching roles were all missed.

The Code was launched in October 2020, with its stated aim being to ensure the diversity of the elite game better reflects the diversity of the country as a
whole.

At the time the first year’s report was published the Code had more than 50 signatories across the elite English game, but collectively they fell short of the target to make 30 per cent of new hires in senior leadership positions female – overall the figure up to the end of August 2021 was 20.8 per cent and just 19.8 per cent among clubs.

Other studies cited in the Fair Game report have shown that board diversity is a key factor in good decision-making and the financial success of organisations, and that gender diversity on boards is linked to better financial performance.

A report from Fair Game published last week found that 52 per cent of clubs who submitted financial reports in 2020 were technically insolvent.

Dr Stacey Pope, co-author of the report and an Associate Professor at Durham University, added: “We looked at all aspects of how football operates at the moment and in a large number of cases clubs are living in the dark ages and are failing to cater adequately for 51 per cent of the population.”

Twenty six per cent of fans at Premier League matches are women, according to an estimate from the league itself in a 2016 review, but a survey from Scottish football found 26 per cent of women who attended matches experienced sexist comments while there.

“Economically, the current situation in football is also hugely naive. Such an outdated stance makes reaching the Holy Grail of financial sustainability even more difficult to achieve and is even more reason for change.”
- Dr Stacey Pope

“​Public attitudes towards sexism and misogyny are changing, and football needs to change too,” Dr Pope added.

“Clubs need to create an environment that is safe, welcoming and inclusive for all women.

“Economically, the current situation in football is ​also hugely naive. Such an outdated stance makes reaching the Holy Grail of financial sustainability even more difficult to achieve and is even more reason for change.”

Football is ignoring the spending power of women, the report said.

A Fanbase Economics report found that in the United States, 80 per cent of sports clothing purchases were made by women.

The Fair Game report calls on clubs to make their stadia and matchday environments inclusive, with child-friendly spaces, the creation of a mechanism to report instances of sexism and misogyny, and for these reports to be taken seriously, and for the perpetrators of such abuse to face consequences.

Fair Game director Niall Couper said: “Football becoming more gender-inclusive is not just morally and socially right – it is also commercially beneficial.”

Fair Game fully supports the recommendations of the fan-led review, which was published last November. One of its recommendations was that equality, diversity and inclusion “should form a strong pillar of good corporate governance. It should be seen as a central part of any organisation’s business plan and not an add on”.

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