Complaint by female football referees

In the Guyana Football Federation Inc (GFF) column in Saturday’s Guyana Chronicle in recognition of International Women’s Day,  GFF President, Wayne Forde set out what his organisation is doing for gender parity.

He contended that the Federation continues to make strides to facilitate the involvement of women in the game.

“Through our technical development strategy, we have in our employ, a full-time Women’s Development Officer whose mandate it is to implement the national women’s development football programme. Through this programme, we have raised the profile of women’s football in Guyana: on a weekly basis, more girls are introduced to the game via the Grassroots and formal programme of the nationwide GFF-Scotiabank Academy Training Centres…and there is increased national encampment for girls to continually harness their football/life skills and match readiness.”

The President added “In a sport that is historically male-dominated, the Executive Committee has committed to gender parity and is continuously building an enabling and supportive environment for women and girls to participate, function effectively and realize their potential. The fraternity has an expanding base of women involved in various capacities at leadership, technical and administrative levels – coach, referee, physiotherapist, team manager, equipment manager, professional staff etc”.

Mr Forde added that the Executive Committee of the GFF has three women who serve to inform policies and execute the mandate of the Federation which Mr Forde said was a remarkable achievement.

This would all be exceedingly commendable were it not for the fact that it has now emerged that for more than a year now women referees in the game had expressed grave concerns to the leadership of the GFF about the conditions under which they had been serving the game and nothing had been done about it. This would run counter to Mr Forde’s claim of the GFF “building an enabling and supportive environment for women and girls to participate, function effectively and realize their potential”. The grievances raised by the women referees comprise part of a wider complaint which was recently made to the GFF.

Last month when Stabroek Sport asked Mr Forde about the letter of complaint to the GFF by the referees he said in part “The GFF has received unconfirmed information that suggested that the reason for the low percentage of female match officials is the result of an unwholesome Refereeing environment created by unwelcomed advances by some male match officials, in particular. An independent panel has been working on refining the TOR [Terms of Reference] for the inevitable investigation, given its sensitivity and potential impact it may have on the livelihood, reputation and career of individuals, if not handled with the care and objectivity such matters deserve.”

Since that statement by Mr Forde, a female referee has told Stabroek Sport that Mr Forde had been aware of the allegations raised for more than a year and had not done anything about it. When this contention was put to Mr Forde by Stabroek Sport, he declined to say anything except that the matter was being comprehensively investigated.

It is no secret that sports like football that are dominated by men can be harrowing turf for girls and women to navigate particularly in a society so given to sexism and where sexual harassment is seen as the norm and to be indulged. If the global  #metoo campaign hasn’t awakened that recognition here over the last year or so, it had better do so quickly, not only in the sports arena but in every other sector of society.  One expects that at some point when victims summon up the courage more will come forward with their stories. In this instance, female referees have begun to argue their case over the conditions that they have been subjected to and there are already qualms that these complaints have not been seriously addressed. They must be given a full and immediate hearing.

Though Mr Forde has promised a comprehensive investigation, this may now be too late for the GFF for two good reasons: the delay in addressing the claims may signal a culture of denial within the football fraternity, or worse, a cover-up and those who have come forward would have good grounds not to have any confidence that there will be a robust examination of their complaint.

In these circumstances, the investigation would be better handled by reputable persons from outside of the GFF. Given all that has transpired, the GFF should recognise this and move to ensure that no undue influence is brought to bear on the investigation. There must be rights advocates and women’s groups willing to take up the complaints of the referees. Aren’t there?

Saturday’s GFF column in the Chronicle was entitled ‘Extra time’. Unfortunately, it’s time’s up for the GFF on this probe.

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