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AS ONE who was born in the Royal London hospital in London’s East End and grew up proud of my working-class roots, the criticism that Lord Digby Jones spewed on Twitter about TV presenter and former Arsenal footballer Alex Scott at the weekend made my blood boil. I thought we were moving past that “jobs for boys” viewpoint.
Jones tweeted: “Enough! I can’t stand it any more! Alex Scott spoils a good presentational job on the BBC Olympics Team with her very noticeable inability to pronounce her ‘g’s at the end of a word. Competitors are NOT taking part, Alex, in the fencin’, rowin’, boxin’, kayakin’, weightliftin’ & swimmin’.”
His comments represent an issue of class prejudice deeply ingrained in the sports industry, where women are constantly picked apart and are treated differently to men. The media companies have struggled to give space to women as researchers, presenters, programme leaders, producers and directors.
Unions have fought for equality and change for decades and are slowly making up ground. Jones’s ignorance demonstrates how far we have to go, and then some. I don’t recall anyone ever calling out Harry Redknapp for his accent.
Jones, minister of state for trade & investment in the run into the spectacular capitalist crisis in banking in 2008, is not the only one feeling the heat. His attitude is not dissimilar to those who stigmatised “Essex girls” in the 1990s, to keep them out of the finance industry and keep the glass ceiling firmly in place.
Scott’s response was perfection. She tweeted: “A quick one to any kids who may not have a certain kind of privilege in life. Never allow judgements on your class, accent, or appearance hold you back … use your history to write your story. Keep striving, keep shining and don’t change for anyone.” 1-0 to Alex.
Any sports fan would know that Alex Scott is eloquent, knowledgable and largely unbiased, unlike some other pundits. She’s an MBE, has 140 caps for England, represented her country at the Olympics and was inducted into the English Hall of Football Fame. Her response spoke for thousands of women in the sporting industry trying to make their mark based on their own merit and on a collective struggle for equality. Class, bigotry and sexism is not going to halt this welcome progress.
In 2019, I took my mum to Tottenham for a day out at the new stadium only to be called “tourists” by two middle-aged men sitting behind us. Mum indignantly told them I’d been to nearly every home game so far that season. They apologised, sheepishly.
The fact that we had to justify our presence said it all. It is still all too easy to come across prejudice and discrimination in football and across all sports — don’t get me started on Formula One.
But like Scott, the comments of the “captain of industry” only made me more determined. That glass ceiling is there to be shattered.
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