Paid Content

Jill Scott MBE, Gary Neville and Heineken Team Up To Tackle The Issue Of Gender Bias In Football

Former England international players-turned-pundits Jill Scott MBE and Gary Neville underwent a covert role reversal recently as part of Heineken’s social experiment, ‘The Social Swap’, aimed at addressing gender bias when it comes to women sharing their opinions about football on social media.
Paid post from Heineken
What's this?

This content was paid for by an advertiser. It was produced by our commercial team and did not involve HuffPost editorial staff.

Jill Scott MBE & Gary Neville
Jill Scott MBE & Gary Neville

“Seems like your brain’s gone misising. Best leave the football to the boys then luv”, is just one of the many sexist responses that Scott, one of England’s most decorated players, received when sharing her footballing views on social media recently.

Meanwhile, Jill’s male counterpart, Gary Neville, another former England player, was doing the same. The response? “Great prediction here [Gary]”; “Well said Gaz top pundit”. Except, not everything was as it seemed. For the experiment, the pair swapped social media handles for five days, and, as seen by the responses, the reactions to their commentary couldn’t have been more different.

Support for women in football is seemingly at an all-time high, particularly since the Lionesses’ valiant effort in the recent Women’s World Cup final and having been crowned Euro champions in 2022. According to the Women’s Super League (the highest tier of women’s European club football), match attendance has increased by 200% – with this in mind, the stream of abuse aimed at Scott should be surprising. But, while there has been much progress in combating gender disparity in the sport, the results of Heineken’s social experiment prove that this work must continue.

A 2020 survey by Women In Football revealed that two-thirds of women working in the sport have experienced gender discrimination at work, and that “banter” is the most-used term to describe (or, perhaps, dilute) the severity of this issue — see one social media user telling Scott to “Get back in the kitchen babe”.

The Social Swap Responses
The Social Swap Responses

The posts Scott produced during the five-day experiment undoubtedly resonated with fans – just not when they came from her account. “By putting myself in Jill’s shoes and seeing the reaction, I have seen first-hand the uglier side of this sport that I love and want to make it clear that football is for everyone. On the pitch and online, we should treat each other with respect no matter our gender, race, sexuality or what colour shirt we’re wearing,” says Neville.

“Attitudes have definitely changed, but there’s no doubt that female fans, pundits and players still get a lot more online negativity than men due to gender bias. You develop a thick skin – but we shouldn’t have to”

- Jill Scott MBE

Fortunately, major players in the world of sports are addressing these issues of gender discrimination head-on. Along with The Social Swap, Heineken has launched a range of equality-driven initiatives in recent times, including the Heineken Fresher Football website, which displays UEFA football statistics from both the men’s and women’s teams alongside one another for the first time, treating all teams equally. There’s also their wider Cheers to All Fans campaign, which aims to level the playing field for all football supporters.

Plus, a new partnership between Heineken and Arwen will help fans manage offensive comments on social media. The online program uses AI and automation to help users hide unwanted posts on their feeds – and, thanks to the partnership, football supporters can gain free access to the tool here.

“Heineken wants to be the most inclusive sponsor in football,” says Nabil Nasser, Global Head of Heineken Brand. “The Social Swap shows not only the unfair imbalance in football fan culture but also how important it is that we all give gender bias and online toxicity the red card!”

Scott and Neville have spoken about the experiment on camera, sharing some of the responses. Watching the two pundits reading the posts aloud, it becomes even more apparent how divided reactions to their commentaries were, especially when Neville shockingly shares one user’s ‘advice’ to “Save your opinion for what to make for dinner” – a comment he seems surprised by, but Scott, unfortunately, doesn’t.

“Some people have probably been left a little red-faced by this experiment but hopefully it’s reminded everyone of the need to kick gender bias out of the game for good,” says Scott. And with experiments such as The Social Swap highlighting these long-standing issues within sport, it seems that change could finally be on the horizon.