By Jennifer Lipman
February 17, 2011
As a woman, one of the things I always appreciate when I go to football matches is how short the queues are for the toilets. A football stadium at half time is probably one of the only places in the world where the men have to wait for longer.
Obviously, it’s because football supporters remain more likely to be men than women. But that’s not to say women don’t like football; plenty do, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t. It would be sexist, horribly chauvinistic, to suggest women had no place to watch football.
But what if I wanted to play football? I could, in any number of arenas, but as a woman, could I play for an all-male football team? I don't mean physically - this is no time to make judgments about my poor coordination or my understanding of the offside rule (Salt shaker? Pepper pot?) - but would I be allowed? And should I be?
Of course not. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a male football team, it would just be a football team. Which there’s nothing wrong with, if people want it. But if, in its essence, the team is for men to play in, then it has to be limited accordingly. That’s not discrimination, that’s just logic.
It would be discrimination to say that because of who they are they can’t play the sport at all. It would be discrimination to, for example, ban women from the stands, or force them to sit in a different area, or charge them different prices for the refreshments at half time.
Now that the story of the great MSFL football identity scandal has made it into the mainstream media – The Times, the Mirror, the Metro and the Evening Standard amongst others – it’s generated a fair amount of outraged comment around the web.
Under the Daily Mail’s story, one person wrote: “How can this be allowed to happen in Britain today?”. Another described it as “unsportsmanlike to segregate people on a religious basis”. The cheerful pundits on the Evening Standard story accused the league of being racist and referred to the “double standards of 'anti-racism'.”
So, was the Brownie group I went to – all-Jewish – also racist? What about the Jewish summer camps I attended or, for that matter, the Jewish Society I was involved with at university? Were they really, truly, examples of segregation? Of course not.
Religion isn’t only about worship. Just as gender is more than a label – men and women are different, if none other than in the physical sense – religion feeds into the social and lifestyle side of things; what we eat, how we celebrate our new year, where we choose to live, and yes, even the way in which our leisure activities are organised.
It’s not called discrimination. It’s called being part of a community.