Thousands and thousands of Japanese women watch, play and love football. Despite this it seems that they are not qualified to comment on the game on TV…
The relationship between women and football in Japan is a rather odd one.
Compared to most other countries the number of female supporters in the stadium every weekend is huge – with around 50% of those at games being women.
Also, with Nadeshiko Japan a genuine force within the world game and riding high on a wave of good publicity, women’s football is taken far more seriously here than it is in a lot more “developed” footballing nations.
There are several established female journalists covering the game in Japan, too, and every Japanese football broadcast features a female face.
Unfortunately, though, this is all-too-often the only thing they provide.
While the men alongside them tackle the serious issue of the game (well, they say “sugoi desu ne” (amazing) and “ii na” (good) a lot, if TBS’s coverage of the Euros is anything to go by), the woman in the studio is required to do little more than smile and introduce the start of the game: “sore de ha, kohan desu!” (so, here comes the second half).
The way in which they are treated as no more than decoration is embarrassing, and while employing attractive females to sit and look pretty is hardly unique to Japan, the fact it takes place – and is accepted – so frequently in a country where so many women have an interest in the game is astonishing.
On first impressions England would not perhaps seem the best example to use as a comparison – with Sky Sports populating its 24-hour news channel with, in the words of The Guardian’s Barney Ronay, “impossibly beautiful robo-babes” – but there are also females on English TV who play more active roles.
The likes of Gabby Logan and Helen Chamberlain, for instance, present popular football shows on which they take part in discussions about and offer opinions on the game, and the idea of football as a “man’s game” is treated as an increasingly old-fashioned way of thinking.
In early 2011, for instance, Sky’s main presenting duo of Richard Keys and Andy Gray were caught making sexist comments about a female linesman ahead of a Premier League match (including the suggestion that she wouldn’t understand the offside law), after which several other pieces of footage highlighting their derogatory attitudes towards women came to light.
They were duly removed from their jobs and roundly criticised for their idiotic behaviour – with most people finding it amusing that the pair genuinely seemed to think an individual’s gender would hamper their ability to understand football.
Such attitudes – while not justifiable, and certainly dying out – are a little less surprising in countries where females were not generally involved in the initial stages of football’s development.
When the J.League was launched in 1993, though, it was marketed at everyone, irrespective of their sex. There is, then, very little cause for such outdated views to be the norm in Japan.
The subject is undoubtedly one that can be discussed in the far wider context of Japanese society – but for the purposes of this article let’s keep the focus on the grinning-but-opinionless anchors on TV.
Aside from the blatant sexism on display, I have three main problems with the way the roles are allocated.
Firstly, as I have already touched upon, the men in the studio often provide absolutely zero analysis themselves, and so the suggestion that they are there to provide the content to counter the announcer’s form is laughable.
Secondly, while I readily admit that some of the girls in question – having been recruited from general talent agencies – probably don’t have much football knowledge, this is not always the case.
I have enjoyed several conversations with female announcers who perfectly understand the game, and I’m frequently frustrated when they are denied the chance to express those views on air.
Finally, what I find most bizarre is the way in which women such as Nami Otake are used.
Otake-san, as a former player, is granted the opportunity to discuss the finer points of matches, but only for women’s games.
Once the men’s matches are back on screen Otake-san is ushered out of the studio so a Johnnys fool can come in and gurn at the camera while repeating worn-out platitudes that offer no insight or enlightenment. Then the cute girl ushers in the commercials.
Sore de ha…