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Sexism in football language discussed in Germany

November 13, 2019

Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc demanded that his players play "like men" ahead of his team’s 0-4 defeat away at Bayern, triggering a debate about the use of inclusive language in the German game.

Fussball WM 2018 Russland l Brasilien vs Mexiko - Neymar verletzt
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Khan

The much-anticipated first "Klassiker" of the season, in which Bayern Munich emphatically beat Borussia Dortmund 4-0 at the Allianz Arena, was not short of headlines, but one had been written before a ball had even been kicked.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the game, Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc described his club's recent results against Bayern Munich as "horrible" and demanded that the players show more character going into the game.

"It's not about tactics," he said. "We must play men's football. We must act like men on the pitch."

Zorc wasn't the only one making a reference to the players' alleged masculinity, or the lack thereof, ahead of the game. In an interview with tabloid Sportbild, midfielder Axel Witsel also spoke about Borussia Dortmund's last two appearances against the German champions in the Bundesliga, the first of which ended in a 3-2 Borussia Dortmund win, with the game in Munich finishing with a 1-5 defeat for the Black and Yellows.

According to Witsel, the difference between the two performances was that "in the first game, we played with balls. In the second, we played without them."

Germany international reacts

Zorc's quotes triggered a discussion about the role sexism plays in everyday language used by football's top figures in Germany.

On Twitter, one user started a thread with GIFs of players pretending to be injured, adding the caption "Männerfussball," or men's football, to each one.

Criticism was also made by several members of one of Germany's most popular football podcasts, Frauen Reden Über Fussball (women talking about football or "FRÜF"), in which female supporters discuss the game's burning issues.

Among the most prominent voices criticizing the language used by Borussia Dortmund's sporting director and players was Germany goalkeeper Almuth Schult. In an interview with Eurosport, the 28-year-old VfL Wolfsburg player said she thinks it's "a shame" that the women's game is discussed in such negative terms.

"We don't spend so much time lying on the pitch trying to act like we're injured [in the women's game]," she said, while also calling for more severe punishments for players pretending to be injured and repeatedly complaining to referees.

BG WM Kader der Frauen-Nationalmannschaft
Germany international Almuth Schult has criticized Michael Zorc's quotes.Image: picture-alliance/Gladys Chai von der Laage

Language discussed at football and gender conference

At a Fan Project conference in the southern German city of Stuttgart this week, social workers and education professionals who work with young football fans in some 50 locations across the country gathered to discuss this very issue.

Under the title "Fan Work and Gender," experts discussed topics such as masculinity in football and the way it is expressed by players, supporters and commentators, as well as strategies to promote gender inclusiveness for female and non-binay fans.

One of the points discussed was the issue of language and its use in football and how it can serve as a hurdle in the fight for equality in the German game.

Among the examples named was the German word for a team. The word "Mannschaft" is based on the word "Mann" - literally, "man" - which could be considered unsuitable terminology for a group of female players. Some clubs are already trying to replace the term with the more neutral anglicism "Team" as a way of promoting gender inclusiveness.

Speaking after his side's 4-0 defeat at the Allianz Arena, BVB sporting director Zorc made a reference to his quote.

"Men's football?" he asked. "That wasn't even football."