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Baldwin: Overwhelming sexism at World Cup

Several female reporters at the World Cup have been groped, kissed and harassed while doing their jobs on air. CNN's Brooke Baldwin and Christine Brennan discuss why.

Posted: Jul. 6, 2018 8:46 PM
Updated: Jul. 6, 2018 8:53 PM

In a time that has seen the #MeToo movement go worldwide, the planet's biggest football competition has provided a moment of sobriety.

From Burger King offering women a chance to win $47,000 and free Whoppers for life if they got impregnated by a World Cup player, through to the Argentine football federation publishing a section on "How to pick up Russian women" in its pre-tournament guide for staff and journalists, the specter of sexism and misogyny has never been too far away.

On Wednesday, German television channel ZDF took the remarkable step of lodging criminal proceedings against two social-media users who it says targeted Claudia Neumann, one of the channel's leading commentators, with a barrage of sexist abuse.

Of the 16,000 journalists accredited to cover the World Cup in Russia, just 14% are women, according to FIFA, the tournament organizer.

And for some of those women working in the media at the World Cup, the past couple of weeks have been a challenging experience with reports of sexual assault, harassment and online vitriol being directed at them.

The first incident to gain worldwide attention came when a female journalist working in the Russian city of Saransk published a video of herself being sexually assaulted while broadcasting live on air.

Julieth González Therán was reporting for German broadcaster Deutsche Welle's Spanish news channel when a man grabbed her breast and kissed her cheek.

González Therán maintained her composure and finished her report but was left visibly angry and upset.

After posting the video on her Instagram account, González Therán called for more respect for female journalists.

"We do not deserve this treatment. We are equally as professional and deserving. I share the joy of football but we must identify the limits between affection and harassment," she wrote.

#DeixaElaTrabalhar

González Therán's story is one that female sports journalists, particularly in broadcasting, have heard all too often.

In Brazil, the constant harassment suffered by female sports journalists led to a group of them launching a campaign with the slogan #DeixaElaTrabalhar, or "Let Her Do Her Job".

The campaign, which kicked off in March, came after Bruna Dealtry, who works for Esporte Interativo, was reporting live when a man attempted to kiss her.

Brazilian journalist Amanda Kestelman, who works for GloboEsporte and is a supporter of #DeixaElaTrabalhar, believes part of the problem is the sense of entitlement held by some male football fans.

"I was in Russia for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics but the World Cup has been far worse because it brings the worst out of supporters who believe it should be a male-only event," she told CNN from Russia.

"The problem has been especially bad in the streets with fans and drunk people.

"Once I left the metro and asked a boy to walk with me because there was a group laughing and pointing at me on the train."

"My friend and colleague was kissed before a live report on two occasions. That was the worst. No one can do this to a woman when she doesn't consent."

That friend was Julia Guimarães, a TV Globo and SportTV journalist, who won praise for her reaction toward a man who tried to kiss her while she was reporting from Yekaterinburg.

"It's horrible. I feel helpless and vulnerable," she told Globo Esporte after the incident. "This time I responded but it's sad people don't understand why people feel they have the right to do that."

Writing on Twitter after the incident, Guimarães said: "It's hard to find the words ... Luckily, I have never experienced this in Brazil. Over here it has happened twice. Sad! Shameful!"

Like Guimarães, Swedish journalist Malin Wahlberg was grabbed and kissed while reporting on Sweden's game with South Korea.

Other incidents involving Argentine ESPN reporter Agos Larocca and France 24's Kethevane Gorjestani were also reported.

Fatma Samoura, FIFA's first Secretary General, condemned those responsible, tweeting: "Many women are in Russia to carry out their duties in a professional manner & it's important we respect them & their work."

One female journalist told CNN she had witnessed sexual harassment in an official FIFA Fan Zone, an area that is designated for supporters to congregate before matches and watch action on the big screen.

"I work with a Russian girl, who is a translator, and I have noticed that she has difficulty to walk around the city quietly without being approached," Brazilian journalist Luiza Oliveira told CNN.

"We went to the Fan Zone to work on an article and she was approached by at least five different men, some touched her without permission.

"One day in Red Square, a Turkish man hugged her and took a selfie with her without asking permission. I intervened and told him he couldn't do that because it was disrespectful. He said that the photo was for his wife, as if that served as justification for the act."

Oliveira too, has experienced strange looks and glances in the media centers from fellow journalists.

While she is unsure whether the experiences of female journalists have been worse in Russia than at previous tournaments, she wonders whether the lack of a strong feminist movement in Russia means such behavior goes unchallenged.

"In my view, there is a strong objectification of the Russian woman, who is seen as a sex symbol worldwide," she said.

"Russian society is quite conservative and is still far behind in the defense of women's rights."

'Too high-pitched'

But it's not just those in front of the camera who have been targeted with sexual and misogynistic abuse.

In the UK, Vicki Sparks, who made history by becoming the first woman to commentate a World Cup game live on television when she called Portugal's win over Morocco, received a barrage of criticism.

Jason Cundy, a former Chelsea and Tottenham player, told a UK talk show that female football commentators are too "high-pitched."

"I found it a tough listen. I prefer to hear a male voice. For 90 minutes listening to a high-pitched tone isn't what I want to hear," Cundy told ITV's Good Morning Britain.

"When there's a moment of drama, which there often is in football, I think that moment needs