Were there too many attractive fans on screen at the World Cup?

World Cup broadcasters have come under criticism for the over-representation of attractive female fans in crowd cutaways at the expense of other fans. FIFA feels that broadcasters are not showing the ranges of people that attend matches and are being discriminatory. Football is universally loved by members of all societal groups and fans want this diversity to be represented on their screens. The purpose of cutaways to the crowd should be to encapsulate the emotion and passion that fans feel when watching their national team compete at the highest level. A fan’s physical appearance shouldn’t be a reason to broadcast them, they should be broadcast in order to offer an insight into the atmosphere within the stadium.

FIFA’s head of sustainability and diversity Federico Addiechi believes broadcaster’s fixation on attractive fans needs to be tackled. I agree that female fans should not be broadcast for the sole purpose of being “eye candy” to male viewers. However, this does not mean that attractive fans should be banned from appearing on screen. If a fan is attractive that does not make them any less of a fan, they should not be vilified for their appearance. Certain female fans may feel that focusing on their face during a match objectifies them, but that is not the case for all. If you look at images of female fans at World Cup matches, you generally see that they are happy to be on screen and do not feel that they have been violated in any way.

The controversy surrounding female fans is not the only objectification story to arise out of the World Cup. A more worrying story was the treatment of certain female reporters by male fans. Julieth Gonzalez Theran was groped and kissed whilst reporting in Russia and she was not the only reporter to suffer this. Female fans being broadcast due to their appearance is not desirable, but it does not compare to what has happened to female reporters.

The desire to end the objectification of female fans comes at a time when various sports are trying to align themselves with 21st century social values. Formula 1 has removed grid girls, darts has removed walk-on girls and FIFA are seeking to follow suit with their diversity policies. I understand that FIFA have positive intentions to change attitudes towards women in football but there are potential problems that could arise. It is unlikely to happen, but broadcasters should not reach the stage where they intentionally exclude attractive fans from their coverage. It would be even more discriminatory than their current approach as people would be excluded from screens due to their appearance. Camera operators would be left with the minefield of who constitutes attractive and who doesn’t. If Sky announced they were cutting down coverage of attractive women in their footage, it would be insulting to broadcast women on the basis that they are not attractive.

Cutaways to the crowd represent a tiny fraction of football coverage and unnecessary hassle could be removed by not showing the crowd as much. We only need to see the crowd during moments of high anticipation like before a penalty or after a last minute winner. If broadcasters decide to show the most passionate fans at a particular moment , regardless of their gender, then problems should be reduced. Most fans probably don’t think twice about whose shown in the crowd as it represents such a tiny part of the viewing experience. From my own viewing experience of the World Cup I don’t recall much about the demographics of fans who were shown on screen. Fans don’t attend matches just to be shown on screen and whether broadcasting policy stays the same or changes, I don’t think too many fans are going to notice.

This article was originally written for The Gown in June 2017 (independent newspaper of Queen’s University Belfast)

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