• Reece Land

Reece Land: Social media is putting the accessibility of women's football at risk

In my past two columns I’ve spoken about what it’s like working as an agent in the women’s football industry. There’s one thing that has a massive impact on my job and the industry in general that I haven’t talked about yet: social media.

We’re all aware of the discrimination those in women’s football face – it’s nothing new or particularly shocking. After the 2017-18 season Women in Football received 271 incident reports of sexist discrimination, an increase of almost 400 per cent from the previous season. Social media was the main thing driving that increase.

The women’s game may be taking leaps forward in terms of visibility and opportunity, but unfortunately social media is allowing discrimination to take leaps forward too.

You only have to look at the responses to BBC Sport’s tweet about the possible termination of the Women’s Super League on the 18 May to get a sense of what the game is up against. But really the comments on tweets are just the tip of the iceberg.

This week I released a statement on the future of women's football which promoted a lot of abuse through direct messages.

At Next Gen Sport Solutions, both at management level and player level, we’re seeing a huge increase in discrimination through direct messages. Every time we announce a player has signed for us, or that we’ve completed a transfer, we’ll receive a number of unpleasant direct messages.

The messages vary in severity. As an example, last week I released a statement on my personal Twitter account about the economic landscape and the future of women’s football. I received numerous messages on the back of this statement, some were the ones we’ve come to expect: questioning the statement and saying I was exaggerating things to get attention for the game. Others were more severe, one in particular where an individual said that women’s football would be a lot better if ‘you and the players would all just die’.

The women’s game may be taking leaps forward in terms of visibility and opportunity, but unfortunately social media is allowing discrimination to take leaps forward too.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident, or that I’m the only one at Next Gen that gets these messages, that everyone else is shielded from it, but that’s not the case. We’ve seen an increase in the number of our players asking to work with our psychologists and a lot of the requests stem from them struggling with social media.

We’ve also seen an increase in the number of players asking us to take care of their social media accounts for them. We’ve got about 10 players now that don’t even know the passwords for their own Instagram or Twitter accounts. We manage those accounts for them, both as a service and as an attempt to shield them from some of the abuse.

One of the biggest selling points of women's football is the accessibility to the players. Photo by James Boyes.

A lot of England players have spoken out about the intensity of the criticism they received through social media during and after the 2019 World Cup. Keira Walsh recently talked about how she was made to question whether she wanted to continue playing because of it.

People need to realise that the messages and comments are profoundly affecting the players. And these players aren’t getting massive amounts of money like many of the men are. If they fall out of love with football and drop out of the game they’ve got nothing to fall back on financially.

There’s a lot of conversation growing about the way women’s football is changing – it’s starting to go more down the route of the men’s in terms of players having more protection and being somewhat isolated from the general public. All things considered, I don’t think it’s really a surprise that things are going that way.

It is a massive shame though – one of the biggest selling points of women’s football is its accessibility: the fact that you can go to a match and chat to the players after and get an autograph or two. If that accessibility is taken away as a result of the players getting too much abuse it’ll be to the detriment of women’s football.

People need to realise that the messages and comments are profoundly affecting the players.

I want to close this column by mentioning someone that has changed my life since we first met and someone that has also been the victim of discrimination over the past week. In August last year, Jordan Guard’s media company started subcontracting to Next Gen Sport Solutions. Three months later I offered her the opportunity to become a Director of NGS and drive our brand forward, together.

Jordan and I are Joint Managing Directors of Next Gen Sport Solutions and Founders and Co-Founders of The Women's Sports Alliance

Jordan has been a godsend to me; her work behind the scenes, especially in our media department, is second to none. Over the last few weeks, several people involved in women’s football have described Jordan as a messenger or a PA at NGS. I find this extremely disappointing, especially when it comes from senior females in decision-making positions within women’s football. If women’s football wants equality, then those of us involved must ensure we’re giving it out too.

Jordan is one of the most competent business owners I have come across. Our aim at NGS is to become the world’s best sports management company. For that to happen, I need to surround myself with the best people in the industry, and Jordan is definitely one of them.

Let me know what you thought of this column or what you'd like to read about in future ones by tweeting either @FROMTHEOFFvlog or @ReeceLand__.