On March 25, not long before two of the biggest soccer matches of the season were about to kick off in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, a previously unknown group posted a video online that was of relevance to everyone involved in the game. The group had no name but they had a hashtag and its message was clear: #deixaelatrabalhar or “Let her do her job.”
“We are women and we are professionals,” said the more than a dozen female sports reporters in a two-and-a-half-minute video shared by some of Brazil’s biggest and best-known clubs and players. “We just want to work in peace. Sport is our place too. I want respect.”
The video was in response to a number of recent incidents where female reporters were kissed, harassed or abused while doing their jobs in and around Brazil’s football stadiums. The harassment is not new, and it is not limited to Brazil, but amid protests calling for equality around the world it was another indication that a time of reckoning has arrived.
— #Deixaelatrabalhar (@deixaelatrab) March 25, 2018
“No woman in sports journalism in Brazil has not been subject to some kind of violence,” Livia Laranjeira, a sports reporter for TV Globo and one of the organizers of the campaign, told CPJ. “We have all suffered and so we got together and decided to do something together.”
The final straw, Laranjeira said, came in early March, after two incidents in quick succession. In the first, on March 11, Renata de Medeiros, a reporter for Rádio Gaúcha, was abused by an Internacional supporter, who tried to assault her after she asked him to repeat a slur directed toward her.
Two days later, Bruna Dealtry, who was reporting for Esporte Interativo TV, was pounced upon by a shirtless fan who tried to kiss her as she was doing a spot to camera on Vasco da Gama‘s match against Chilean club, Universidad de Chile.
The video was the start, but Laranjeira, Medeiros, Dealtry and around 50 other reporters quickly expanded their focus to engage in a broader campaign aimed at educating fans and improving their working conditions. They are backing incipient programs at some clubs to teach young players about gender laws and have met with Brazilian prosecutors who work at sporting events, to encourage them to crack down on those responsible for sexual harassment or abuse.
“Racial abuse at stadiums, for example, is taken much more seriously than ever before and we have explained that gender-based crimes need to be punished as well,” Gabriela Moreira, an ESPN reporter who met with law enforcement officials late last month, told CPJ. “We need to make prosecutors more aware and they need to tell police inside the stadium to take action when offences are committed against women.”
The calls have resonated in Brazil and they are sure to strike a chord elsewhere. Across the world the expertise of women reporters is called into question and their appearance is critiqued. Abuse, most often online, is a daily occurrence.
The problem is especially acute in Latin America, where soccer is a passion and machismo remains ingrained. From Bogotá to Buenos Aires, and Manaus to Mexico City, pitch side reporters are routinely subjected to sexist harassment and abuse, and threats on social media are depressingly common.
The abuse is mostly from fans but colleagues and even officials at the clubs they cover have been guilty of sexism. In 2017, the coach of Porto Alegre club Internacional told a reporter he wouldn’t answer her question “because you’re a woman and probably don’t play.” A Peruvian TV commentator explained to a colleague last year what it was like to play at a packed stadium because “you’re a woman and you won’t understand.” After criticising a national team player who had been arrested for domestic abuse in 2016, Colombian presenter Andrea Guerrero said she received an anonymous Instagram message threatening her young daughter.
The Brazilian campaign echoes a similar one in Mexico, where two reporters created a non-governmental organization to combat “abuse, violence and discrimination.” Marion Reimers, a commentator with Fox Sports, set up Versus with a colleague in February 2017 after they were inspired by a mean tweets video of men reading out abusive messages sent online to U.S. sports journalists.
Reimers, like many of the women who work alongside her, faced harassment and threats, ranging from sexist comments to rape threats to being sent pictures of a dismembered body. Versus set itself the task of not just highlighting the plight faced by female reporters but also changing attitudes through seminars and improving inclusion of women reporters by raising money for fellowships.
“You have to appropriate your narrative and that is a very powerful thing to do,” Reimers told CPJ by phone. “The trolls are braver online than they are in real life and they are always going to be there. The people who say these things to me online ask to take a picture with me when they see me walking on the street.”
Female reporters acknowledged that in some of the more recent cases, clubs have at least publicly repudiated their fans. Internacional said that it ejected the spectator who abused Medeiros and Vasco da Gama promised, in a tweet, to take action.
Others have gone further, with major clubs taking bold measures around International Women’s Day on March 8. Corinthians players recorded messages in support of the No Means No campaign and wore the slogan on their shirt, while Atlético Mineiro took to the field holding a banner encouraging women to call a help line if they faced domestic violence.
The response to the Let Her Do her Job campaign has been largely positive and its organisers are optimistic it could mark a turning point. However, changing attitudes is a long and complex process and there is an acute awareness that the battle for respect and safety is only just beginning.
“We have to work on more women being protagonists in terms of sports journalism and content,” Reimers said. “It seems we grow up in a culture where because we have different genitalia we can’t talk about 22 human beings running after a ball. It’s medieval and stupid.”
[Reporting from São Paulo]