Football is a strange phenomenon. It is the most popular sport in the world, with 209 football associations that are affiliated to FIFA, compared to the 193 states that are members of the United Nations. It is, therefore, completely understandable that football draws the attention of the world with problems that may be extrapolated to competition and justice in the real world.
Eva Carnerio has become popular among football fans during her stint as Chelsea’s club doctor who rushes on to the field whenever players pick up knocks. It is rare for a woman to be visibly involved in football, a field that still remains a throwback to patriarchal structures of entertainment. Gender in sports is tricky because there are separate women’s leagues and a FIFA Women’s World Cup that institutionalize sex-based differences in physical qualities. It becomes even more trickier when you see that women’s football is also dominantly administered by male managers and the same institutions that run men’s football (or what people generally call football), which are predominantly male. The trickiest thing is that, while we probably have the most female football fans as a proportion to the total football fanbase than any other time before, social constructions of gender and socially ascribed ideals of masculinity to sports still make it difficult for women to gravitate towards sports.
So, when two members of the medical staff come under censure from the manager, for just doing their jobs it might be important to consider all this trickiness about women in football. Because, physio Jon Fearn figures nowhere in this completely justified scathing attack on how Jose Mourinho and Chelsea have treated these doctors who have been spectacularly good over the past title-winning season when clubs all around suffered from injury crises at different points. Now, why is that? Is it because football fans are social justice warriors with an understanding of how sexism is destroying football that they feel the need to prioritize protecting a woman, than her male colleague going through the same bizarre set of events, from the men in power who exercise their privilege to effectively set up a glass ceiling for her rise? Or is it because these fans have found a stick long enough to beat a club that is despised for the way it suddenly rose to the top of the league in 2004 and has stayed there since, by setting itself up to defend and spending multi-billionaire Roman Abramovic’s oil-backed rouble in the transfer market to attract the best talent while being led by a manager who is often described as an arrogant master of the misdirection? As much as it is desirable to believe the former, as this would be a huge win for gender equality everywhere in the world, it disappointingly looks a case of the latter. Carneiro is reportedly pursuing legal charges of wrongful dismissal against Chelsea and it is only fair that she gets justice in terms of compensation and/or reinstatement because she was only doing her job as the club doctor. But, maybe spare a thought for Jon Fearn and every other playing and non-playing member of every club’s staff who were at one point let go despite doing their jobs to the best of their abilities and ask why there was no mob, frothing at their mouths, on the internet asking for justice on their behalf. It might be perhaps useful to examine how clubs are run and whether all clubs treat their employees fairly, because the management of a football club still remains an autocratic one with the manager at the top. Do I hear calls for democratizing football club management, where players and staff members have powers of challenging manager decisions, to ensure this does not happen again?
The buzz around the most-hated man in football right now, Diego Costa, would perhaps help to explain this point further. Is Diego Costa the first player in the Premier League to sneakily make fouls when the referee is not looking? Is Diego Costa the first player in the Premier League to provoke opposition players into committing fouls against him through a volatile mix of dirty fouls and offensive words? That is not to say his behaviour should go unchecked and the English Football Association has rightly stepped in post-match to hand him a three-match ban for violent conduct. Sure, Arsenal can claim to have lost the chance at a result but when you’ve watched enough football over the years, there is a sense that wrong referee decisions tend to even out over the season. But what is definitely curious is Gabriel Paulista’s straight red card for a kick on Costa has been rescinded, while even a furious Arsene Wenger admitted in his post-match interview that while Costa should’ve been sent off, Gabriel deserved his red card. So when Jose Mourinho claims there is a “campaign” against Chelsea, initial flippant dismissals seem immature.
Jose Mourinho is no stranger to playing the victim, as we’ve seen him blaming everyone and everything from the ballboy to deriding opposition teams for using the same tactics he did, when his team loses. But that is why the story of the boy who cries wolf ends with him in the wolf’s belly and not the community standing up and driving away the wolf. While it may be impossible to ensure boys don’t cry wolf, it might be wise to set up fences so that they have no reason to.