I’ve been accused of being a bit of a ‘lefty’. I suppose I am in the sense that I believe in social justice and equality, not of resources but opportunity. I also think that society has a duty to help and support its most vulnerable citizens because, as I’ve personally had the misfortune to learn, no matter how affluent and successful you are that could one day be you. The body, unfortunately, is no respecter of social status or wealth. Sexism is an issue which is often debated and fought against in left of centre circles. I’ve always been inclined to steer clear of such debates, not because I don’t believe it to be an issue but because on the one hand I’ve been dismayed at some of the attitudes towards women from men and on the other I’ve been dismayed by some of the attitudes of women towards men. The arguments always get ugly and never end well.
I mention it today because the Eva Carneiro/Chelsea/Mourinho affair has raised the issue of sexism within football. Her outline case, presented to the employment tribunal on Monday accused now Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho of sexism in the workplace and Chelsea of being an environment in which sexism towards the former club doctor was commonplace. Clearly, as Chelsea’s quick settlement and statement on Tuesday confirmed, Carneiro was significantly wronged and no clearer cut case of constructive dismissal will you ever see. However, the swift end to proceedings mean that the accusations of sexism will never be resolved. We’ll never know what happened, just as we’ll never know whether Mourinho called the doctor a ‘daughter of a whore’ or a ‘son of a bitch’ in Portuguese.
Many on social media had little interest in the case. It was of more interest to me as a lapsed lawyer. However, some did, often it seemed simply because of tribal club loyalty. What dismayed me and prompted me to write this piece is that the Carneiro case once again activated the ‘gross hypocrisy, tortured logic and lack of self-awareness switch’ in the brains of many fans. Here was a woman fortunate enough to work in her dream job on a fine salary, but who was serenaded on a weekly basis by Neanderthals at football matches keen to request that she get her ‘t*ts out for the lads’ and far worse. She experienced sexism and intimidation at least once a week. Then something happened to her during that fateful game against Swansea at Stamford Bridge in circumstances in which we know for a fact she was wronged. We all saw it and Chelsea yesterday admitted it. She did nothing wrong and we have to assume that for her to leave such a well paid, desirable job some unpleasant stuff must have taken place behind the scenes. We now know that none of it was her fault and that a significant portion of the blame falls upon Jose Mourinho.
This is where there was a problem, because Jose Mourinho is now Manchester United manager and thus the affair activated those pesky switches in the heads of both some United fans and football’s sexists. Without any shame at all fans on social media began denigrating Carneiro. One red on my timeline described her as a ‘money-grabbing whore’, another called her a ‘greedy bitch’. The irony of invoking sexist remarks to sleight a woman bringing a claim for sexism in the workplace was well and truly lost on them. Such comments were depressingly common and easy to find, as were those based purely in tribalism. The greed angle was rife after it became apparent that Carneiro had previously declined a £1.2m settlement offer. To a layman that may seem a lot, but as an award for a woman previously earning £300k a year who had been forced out of her ‘dream’ job, who will have spent a significant amount in legal fees and was due damages for distress, that is not a generous award. Chelsea knew that and will have settled for more. The hypocrisy stems from the fact that if any one of the critics believed they would most likely get more money at tribunal they would almost certainly have pursued it. Only in football are people ‘greedy’ for choosing to take a new job on a higher salary or for pursuing the best deal for themselves and their families. Jamie Vardy has elicited a great deal of anger and resentment from Arsenal fans for deciding to take some time to make a life changing decision, as if those fans would not do exactly the same in identical circumstances. Carneiro faced further criticism for originally asking for her job back on absolutely stupendous terms and yet it is exactly what I’d do. The thought process is that she knew she had been wronged and would only go back to a toxic, unwelcoming working environment in return for a salary and lump sum big enough to make it worth it. That does not undermine her her case in the slightest.
It was also sad this week to see so many fans immediately call ‘greed’ when it seems clear now that Carneiro settled quickly after the beginning of the tribunal once that she had made her alleged experiences public and elicited a full apology from Chelsea. The doctor and her husband are independently wealthy and whilst the settlement will have been extremely welcome it will not be life-changing. Is it so hard to believe that personal and professional vindication were more motivating to her than money?
Some fans were also quick to accuse her of being a ‘fame-chaser’. This is an example of victim-blaming which sadly also emanated from Chelsea themselves. The club laughably accused her of seeking the limelight by sitting behind Mourinho at matches to get on TV and for nominating one of the Chelsea players (who is also presumably a friend) to undertake the Ice Bucket Challenge for charity. Carneiro worked at Chelsea for a significant period of time and will have made many friendships there. Was she supposed to terminate them all the moment she left her job? Regarding wider claims of her being hungry for attention, it is hard to understand quite what she did to propagate that view. How exactly could she pursue such a case against an entity as public as Chelsea and the most famous manager in world football without it being in the public eye?
The reality is that some will never see things from Carneiro’s perspective and will be unwilling to listen to any argument contrary to their own because Mourinho is their idol, or, indeed, the new manager of their football club. Where club loyalties lie objectivity often flies out of the window. In those minds Carneiro was a vindictive woman trying to destabilise the life of their new or old hero and thus, by extension, damage his new club. In those circumstances it then seems appropriate to damn a woman for circumstances most know little about whilst insulting her and being casually sexist, the irony of which is totally lost on them. That tribalism, which takes some fans way past the limits of acceptable logic and behaviour is, since the near eradication of matchday hooliganism, the saddest part of the modern game. Social media has made this worse, for people will say things and express views on line that they would rarely articulate in their everyday lives. Some, however, would, which I think is probably more depressing.
Football is all about the camaraderie, the thrill of being surrounded by like-minded souls all wanting the same thing, being part of a red/green/blue/yellow army, accepted and embraced on a level many do not experience in their day to day lives. It is about passion and drama, highs and lows and epic rivalries. These things all make it special. What is not so special is taking club loyalty so far that it spills over into hypocrisy and discrimination, where others are judged for acting in the same way that most fans would themselves, where abuse is allowed and casual denigration and discrimination acceptable. Eva Carneiro was wronged by Chelsea and by Jose Mourinho and was entitled to a public apology and every penny she could get and her pursuit of those things were part of a strategy no different to that which we would all implement ourselves. What she is not is a ‘greedy bitch’ or a ‘money-grabbing whore’. If that is your opinion then I’m afraid that you are unpleasant, sexist and really rather stupid.