Football’s thought police need to man up

If you find football fans singing ‘get your tits out’ shocking, then you really need to get out more.

Duleep Allirajah

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Topics Free Speech

I suppose it had to happen eventually. We’ve had clampdowns on racist, anti-Semitic, sectarian and homophobic chanting at football. Now sexist chanting is in the dock. The Football Association (FA) is urging fans to report sexist abuse at games after the BBC revealed ‘disturbing’ footage of fans chanting ‘get your tits out for the lads’ at Chelsea physio Eva Carneiro. The appeal to report sexist abuse marks the launch of the She Belongs campaign by advocacy group Women in Football. Is this new initiative against terrace sexism a sign of progress? Don’t be daft. It’s just another nauseating exercise in middle-class self-flattery; another stick with which to beat the knuckle-dragging proles.

Of course there is sexist chanting at football matches. If you find the video of football fans singing ‘get your tits out’ shocking, then you really ought to get out more. Football chants are often abusive, inappropriate, tasteless and obscene. Whatever your decency threshold, it’s highly likely you’ll find a terrace chant that crosses it. If you go looking for offence – and offence-seeking is fast becoming our national pastime – then you’re bound to find it at football. In short, a football match is probably not the ideal team-building activity for an easily-offended campus women’s group.

Personally, I don’t like the ‘get your tits out’ chant. It’s not clever or funny. In fact, it’s downright puerile. But would I report fellow football fans for singing it? Never. As I wrote last week on spiked, Kick It Out’s efforts to encourage fans to report abuse should be steadfastly resisted. There’s no place for Stasi-style snitching in a free society. If you don’t like so-called ‘discriminatory’ chants, then don’t join in. Or have an argument with the pillocks who chant this stuff. Or, better still, stay away from football altogether. That’s right, maybe the thin-skinned offence-seekers should find a sport where spectators sing nice inclusive songs, like ‘Intersectionality is wonderful’, and where breastfeeding within sight of the pitch is openly encouraged.

The issue of sexist abuse in football seems to me to be a manufactured problem. The Football Supporters Federation says it ‘doesn’t receive many complaints in relation to sexist chanting at games’, while only 25 people have used Kick It Out’s app to report sexist abuse this season. This doesn’t mean that sexist chanting is non-existent. It means that football fans themselves aren’t as offended as the finger-wagging campaigners would like them to be. Women in Football, however, interprets the absence of complaints as evidence that women are too timid to complain. FA Board member Heather Rabbatts says: ‘Women don’t have the confidence to report it.’ Frankly, this is an incredibly patronising line of argument. Firstly, it assumes that women are so fragile and easily damaged and that they need to be shielded from nasty, brutish sexist chants. In fact, they’re so pathetic that they also lack the knowhow or confidence to lodge a complaint. Maybe I’m missing something here, but I find the narrative of female vulnerability to be a little bit… er… sexist.

Women in Football insist that silencing sexist chanting is necessary to widen women’s participation in football. ‘It’s about how we all try to ensure the game is open and available to everyone’, said Rabbatts. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project and a supporter of the campaign, concurs: ‘It is time that clubs and fans alike stand together and take responsibility for creating a space where everybody can enjoy football, free from any kind of prejudice.’ But here’s the thing. Unpleasant as it might be, sexist chanting certainly doesn’t appear to be a deterrent to female spectators. There are more female fans attending matches than ever before – an estimated 20 per cent of spectators at Premier League games are women. The inclusivity argument is, in other words, a complete red herring.

The new crusade against sexist chanting provides yet another excuse for middle-class missionaries to educate the uncivilised terrace plebs. As such, there’s nothing remotely progressive about the campaign. It’s all about flaunting the moral superiority of ‘people like us’ over neanderthal football fans. It’s a no-no to express elitist sentiments openly, as Emily Thornberry discovered to her cost after tweeting a picture of a white van parked outside a house with a St George flag draped from the window. ‘Drippingly patronising’ was Nick Clegg’s withering verdict. However, while Thornberry was pilloried, the thinly veiled snobbery of campaigns against ‘discriminatory’ chanting at football goes completely unchallenged. But enough is enough. It’s time to draw a line in the sand. It’s time to kick the illiberal, elitist language police out of football.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @DuleepOffside

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Topics Free Speech