Lucy Gillett, the Crystal Palace Women goalkeeper, has accused clubs of not following Football Association protocols around discriminatory abuse.
Gillett claims she was subjected to sexist abuse and body-shaming during Sunday’s Championship game at Coventry United, and says she would probably walk off the pitch if targeted again.
The 25-year-old said that “a group of about eight men, a couple of feet behind the goal, just abused me for 45 minutes” during her side’s 3-2 defeat. The men were “telling the ref to check the gender of at least seven players on our team [and] making comments about my bum: the size of it, singing I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie when I had the ball, telling me it’s time for me to renew my gym membership”.
Gillett reported her concerns to the referee at half-time. She claims that a Coventry official assured her that “they would take care of it, put security guards out, but I didn’t see any security guards go out”.
The FA’s protocol for dealing with discriminatory abuse is for concerns to be brought to the referee. The officials should report the incident to the home club’s safety officer and police, who should seek to identify the culprits while the match continues. If the problem persists, referees are able to consult with the police and safety officers to remove players and temporarily suspend the game. They can abandon the match if the abuse continues or if it is felt that players are at risk. Tannoy announcements can be made but are not mandatory.
Gillett said: “The women’s game is growing and it’s sort of expected, but at the same time, clubs need to be prepared for how they’re going to handle it when it happens.
“I would like to raise awareness for protocols and action plans for if this does take place at another ground. I’m at a stage of my life where a comment can go in one ear and out the other. If it was a 16-18-year-old who’s not as self-confident as I am hearing these comments, would that tip them over the edge? That’s my biggest aim.
“I had no clue what to do, which is why I left it 45 minutes. If I’m honest, looking back at it, I probably should have done something different. Maybe it is good for players to know what to do if they are in that situation. I think I probably would walk off the pitch [if it happened again]: speak to the ref, and then, if there’s no control over it, walk off and see where things go.
“I’ve had fans that are passionate about their team and said stuff but I’ve never had personal abuse directed at me. Abuse is abuse. Regardless if it’s sexist, racial, verbal, whatever – it’s not acceptable.”
An FA spokesperson added: “We continue to work with partners across the game, such as Stonewall and LGBT fan groups, to encourage fans and players to report abuse, both at a national and county FA level, and work with the leagues, campaign groups and the statutory agencies to sanction and educate perpetrators.” Palace have complained to Coventry United Ladies who were contacted for comment.