There's a major sexual harassment problem at the World Cup

Elise Solé

“It is unacceptable the deliberate intention of some Brazilian fans to sexually harass women during the World Cup, using embarrassment, deception, and thus violating the human rights of women,” read the statement Friday from the U.N. Women’s Brazilian office. “With low slang words, they reduced women to sexual objects in the demonstration of how misogyny, which even underlies the culture of rape, takes different forms and has no borders, occurring in an event that aims to promote the integration of peoples and feelings of a union for sport. To Russian women and women of all nationalities, U.N. Women Brazil expresses its solidarity.” 

On Sunday while Sport TV journalist Julia Guimarães reported on the Senegal-Japan game, a man tried to kiss her on the cheek; however, she was able to duck. In response, she angrily addressed her assaulter, while her microphone was cut. “It’s hard to find words. … Luckily, I never lived in Brazil! It’s happened twice already. Sad! Shameful!” Guimarães tweeted in Portuguese, per a Twitter translation. 

Last week, Colombian journalist Julieth Gonzalez Theran of Moscow’s DW Espanol was giving an on-air report in the city of Saransk before the Russia-Saudi Arabia match when a man approached her, grabbed her chest, and kissed her on the cheek.

Theran maintained her composure and continued reporting. However, on Instagram she wrote (loosely translated): “Respect! We do not deserve this … We are equally valuable and professional. I share the joy of football but we must identify the limits of affection and harassment.” 

She also said per DW, “I had been at the scene for two hours to prepare for the broadcast, and there had been no interruptions. When we went live, this fan took advantage of the situation. But afterward, when I checked to see if he was still there, he was gone.”

Theran added, “For me, it is an isolated incident. There are always fans that compliment you and behave respectfully. This one went too far. We must clearly deal with this problem.”

According to a New Delhi news outlet, the fan apologized to Theran saying, “I acted carelessly and did not think that I would cause you confusion and shock.” He said he meant to grab her shoulders but “apparently I missed a little.” The website reported that Theran accepted the apology. 

Also last week, a man walked up to Swedish World Cup reporter Malin Wahlberg and kissed her. Another put his arm around her and ruffled her hair.

Twitter has reacted to the spate of cases with a combination of outrage and dismissal. The BBC reported that some people called the reaction to Theran’s case “feminist hysteria” and suggested that the assault was a “compliment.” 

The soccer industry has always struggled with sexism. U.S. female soccer players earn 40 percent of what their male colleagues do, and FIFA, the sport’s governing organization, awards its female winners far less. In 2015, the women’s team won $2 million, compared to the $35 million given to the male team in the previous year, CNN says.

And the inequality extends not just to the players and participants but to the way female viewers are treated too. Last week, Burger King issued an apology for offering a lifetime supply of Whoppers to Russian women impregnated by players.

“This is not new — there’s a longstanding history of female sports reporters receiving pushback, whether it’s entering the male locker room or being viewed as incompetent at their jobs,” Kristen Dieffenbach, executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Unlike football or Little League, soccer was one of the first U.S. sports that allowed women to play on equal ground, but on a global stage, with varying cultures and worldviews, machismo views still dominate.”

After all, in 2017, Saudi Arabia declared that for the first time women could attend soccer games alongside men in the stadium, and in May, the New Zealand national soccer program announced its commitment to equal pay for men and women. And as Theran told DW“Lots of people think that the reporter is only there to bring some color to the picture. But we want to talk about systems and strategy.” 

Sexually harassing female reporters on air may be downplayed because, in a celebratory and public setting, its often viewed as locker room antics or with a “boys will be boys” mentality, says Dieffenbach. “Of course, it’s irrelevant where sexual assault occurs. It’s never ‘just a prank.'” 

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