Imagine the thrill and excitement for us football fans when Sportbladet TV in Sweden, ahead of the new campaign of the Damallsvenskan, announced earlier this year that they had bought the right to broadcast all 132 games of the league. It’s the first time a big media company has done such a thing in Sweden. For about €15 per month one was going to be able to watch every single game in the league, with commentators during the games and with hosts in a studio in between. So far, so good. Studio time is money, we all know that. And for us who want to watch women play football, we know that all too well. In between games Sportbladet TV let their viewers send in their questions, thoughts and opinions that the hosts in the studio show bring up to talk about. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one choking on my coffee when the thoughts of a viewer named Peter who had an idea of what makes women’s football struggle to get viewers, showed up on the screen saying;
“I think it’s sad that so many female footballers are gay. I think it means that men’s interest in watching them play is somehow diminished. Being gay make the women unreachable and unavailable to men. It might be a weird way to think, but I think it’s a reason for men not to watch women play football.”
Here, in this very moment, as a viewer you might have thought or hoped for the studio hosts to say something intelligent and educational now when they had the chance to reach out with an important message. You would’ve expected that they might take the opportunity to set things straight and appear serious. But no. They didn’t. Instead one of the hosts answers:
“This viewer seems to be very concerned and you have to understand where he is coming from. He thinks that there are thousands of men watching women play football only because they got crushes on the players out on the pitch. And if they get the information that their objects of love might be gay it will break their hearts, and they can’t keep watching with the knowledge that these footballers are 'unobtainable'. But Peter, I can reassure you that not all women playing football are gay…”
Well Peter, I assume that the answer means that you can keep watching.
The most important message
Twitter reacted instantly. What did this even have to do with football? Haven’t we gotten any further with this? It's the year 2020 for God’s sake. Sportbladet's host Kristoffer Bergström wrote a column that was published Monday morning 6th of July, where he admitted his mistake. Still, I think he missed out on the opportunity to tell the most important message and that's why we need to bring it up for discussion again. But first; let me tell you one thing; I watch follow certain footballers because they are great footballers and awesome athletes. I even watch them because I know they have great values that they speak openly about and share with us through their platforms.
A big thing in women's football
Another thing about this topic came from a tweet I saw the other day;
“Woso-fans, your fave isn’t the best in the world just because she’s hot and gay. Get that in your heads por favor.”
Somehow, this is a big thing in women's football and we need to talk about it. There are plenty of people out there who watch certain players because of their looks, who they date and so on. Of course, everyone is fine with people having their favourites, let's be honest - we all have them. But when this becomes almost obsessively about physical appearances, their personal lives, partners and so on, rather than their footballing abilities, then we have a problem. Being good looking doesn't make you a better player and vice versa. But in women's football especially, some people will absolutely argue the toss just because they're attracted to one. Having accessible female role models is great and can really help if people are struggling. But when it becomes obsessive and possessive even, then it's all a bit too much.
Footballers are human beings
So, the message I was missing from Sportbladet and Bergström was simply this:
They are footballers and human beings. They are not objects for anyone to drool over. They are top professional athletes, who have been working hard to get to where they are. We should watch them because they are great at what they do. Great at playing football. No matter how they look. No matter who they’re dating or not dating. No matter if they’re in a relationship, if they’re married, if they’re single, gay or not gay. No matter what colour their skin is. Simply because those things have nothing to do with their talent in football. We should honour them because they are great at doing what we, as football fans, love to watch. Football. We love to watch football. I often see fans discussing the appearance and looks of players at Tumblr, Twitter and other social media platforms. They’re happy to openly discuss thigh sizes, if players are ‘toppers’ or ‘bottoms’ or what color their hair ties are when they play. You could assume that they belong to the younger generation but that still doesn't make it right. It's our responsibility to teach them to do right and not wrong. Because those things have to stop and they have to stop right now.
No, I don’t watch footballers play because of their looks. I watch them because they are great footballers. You should do too. To the ‘droolers’, you are not true football fans and I’m pretty sure we can manage without you, even if it means less viewers.