More attention needs to be paid to the fact that men still dominate the field of play
Football administrators the world over have long been saying that more needs to be done to eradicate sexism in the beautiful game.
This message has obviously not been passed down to those responsible for hiring and firing at national women’s teams.
Of the 24 countries participating at this years Fifa Women’s World Cup – now under way in France – just nine are coached by women.
What makes that statistic even more surprising is that three of the past four women’s World Cup competitions have been won by teams coached by women.
In 2003, Tina Theune took Germany to the title in the US and, four years later, Birgit Prinz repeated that feat in China.
In 2011, Germany hosted the competition, but lost out to Japan, who knocked the hosts out in the Last 16 and then went on to win. They were coached by Norio Sasaki.
He took Japan to the final again four years later in Canada, but this time they were downed by the team they had beaten in the 2011 final – the US.
In charge of Team USA was Jill Ellis, who became the third woman in four competitions to coach her team to glory.
The three winners (Germany, the US and Japan), who are expected to do well this time around, are three of the nine countries that are coached by women at this World Cup.
And they are not the only strong teams that have put their fate in the hands of women. Five of the top-eight ranked teams have women at the helm in France – the hosts, Germany, the US, Japan and the Netherlands.
US sports journalist Kevin Baxter described football coaching as a “boys’ club”.
“What money, fame and prestige there are in coaching exist primarily on the men’s side. Yet that remains exclusively a boys’ club, where sex, not success, determines admission,” he said.
Ellis, who was unable to play football in her native England because there were no opportunities for girls and took up the sport only after moving to the US as a teenager, is one of the most decorated woman coaches.
She has coached the US to World Cup glory, won the Fifa world coach of the year for women’s football award and holds the highest coaching certificate available to any coach (man or woman) in the US.
Yet, when it comes to her remuneration, she earns much less than Tab Ramos, even though he is in charge of the US men’s Under-20 side and she coaches the senior women’s team.
Similarly, although men seem to be given plenty of opportunities to coach teams of women, the reverse is not the case.
“Why hasn’t it happened? Because there hasn’t been an opportunity for it to happen,” said Ellis.
“You can have all these really qualified women, but, at the end of the day, the people sitting in the position to say, ‘Yes, we’re going to hire that person’, are the people who have to see it without gender in terms of giving opportunity.”
There are some of those who are confident the tide is turning, and Ellis herself has received some backing from – among others – the former US national men’s team coach, Bob Bradley.
“A team that competes – that, over the course of time, has consistency – everybody can see it. In terms of how they play, their style of play, their commitment, their way of competing – this is the craft of coaching. And so you appreciate the people who do it well.
“Jill Ellis is a great coach. She’s done a great job. With good coaches in any sport, there’s carry over,” he said.
World Cup victory in France for one of the teams coached by a woman will provide yet another argument for those who say that football’s gender barrier must fall.
With one of the most powerful positions in football, that of Fifa secretary-general, being held by Senegal’s Fatma Samoura, maybe – just maybe – the winds of change will be quickened.