A kiss on the cheek, a hand around the shoulders. The 2018 World Cup in Russia has exposed the sexual harassment that journalists – especially female journalists – face in the line of duty, with several acts having been caught on camera.
These incidents have received wide attention, as journalists have shared their experiences on social media. While harassment of female sports reporters has been rampant, male reporters have been targets of harassment, too.
The message that the harassed sports reporters have delivered in their statements is clear: They do not want harassment to be a part of their job anymore.
France 24 Sport Editor Kethevane Gorjestani’s report last week from Saint Petersburg was disrupted by a male football fan who leaned in and kissed her on the neck.
Monday in St Peterburg. Sadly this (and worse) happens to us female sports reporters regularly, especially when covering football. By all means sing, dance and celebrate your team but don’t kiss me, don’t grope me and let me do my job #letherwork #deixaelatrabalhar pic.twitter.com/FDFbsXRMk5
— Kethevane Gorjestani (@ketgorjestani) June 27, 2018
Gorjestani underlined in an interview with the International Press Institute (IPI) that she sees the harassment of female sports reporters as a structural issue in society.
“One look at the comments I got on social media makes it clear that many people, including women, think that we should just shut up and stop complaining about a kiss or a hand on our hip or pick another job”, she said.
The messages that Gorjestani and other harassed journalists have received on social media have also questioned their experience, as well as their expertise in sports reporting.
At least four other female sports journalists have spoken out about sexual harassment while reporting on camera during the World Cup: María Gómez, a reporter for the Spanish TV network Mediaset; Julieth González Therán, a Colombian reporter working for the Spanish channel of the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle; Julia Guimarães, a reporter for TV Globo and SporTV in Brazil; and Malin Wahlberg, reporting for the Swedish newspaper Sportbladet.
It is not just women journalists who have fallen victim to harassment. This week, a video of Jeon Gwang-ryeol, a reporter for the South Korean broadcaster MBN, being kissed by two women during a live broadcast sparked conversation over the need to tackle harassment of male sports reporters as well.
‘Let her work’
Although harassment of journalists has been a hot topic during the tournament in Russia, Gorjestani does not see the issue as confined to Russia alone. She faced it in France, too.
“It’s just that it’s been made public (during the World Cup)”, Gorjestani said. ”For me at least, Euro 2016 in France was much worse. Maybe the police presence in Russia has deterred some fans or maybe I got lucky.”
On Twitter, Gorjestani has lent support to a campaign against sexual harassment of female sports reporters that was started by over 50 Brazilian journalists at a football match in March 2018. The key message of the campaign, which has received support from players like Zico and Gilberto Silva, is #DeixaElaTrabalhar, or “let her work” in English.
Gorjestani said she had not let harassment affect her work.
“I refuse to have a minority of men, who don’t know how to behave, prevent me from doing my job and enjoying it. My reaction might be different had I suffered worse behaviour.”
Some reporters have taken other measures. Sports reporter María Gómez from the Spanish TV network Mediaset said in a video interview cited by El País that she had to take her live report indoors after a male fan kissed her.
Change in culture needed
Gorjestani said that a change in culture was necessary to address the problem.
“I don’t really know if it will change much, but talking about it is a first step”, she told IPI. “I believe that there is a category of fans who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong, that it’s cute to hug and kiss a female reporter on air. I think that among those, some will realize that it’s not OK.”
Several media outlets have condemned harassment of their reporters. Deutsche Welle Sports sent a clear message after its reporter Julieth González Therán was kissed and groped on air.
The incident can be seen here (00:13).
Sexual harassment is not okay. It needs to stop. In football, and elsewhere.pic.twitter.com/O0S1a1F4Es
— DW Sports (@dw_sports) June 20, 2018
Gorjestani said that her bosses at France 24 contacted her and offered her a chance to take leave or even go home.
“They also made a point of addressing it on air by having me talk about what my experience had been”, she noted.
Alexei Sorokin, director general of the World Cup Organizing Committee in Russia, briefly discussed sexual harassment as a general issue at a press conference last week. According to the Interfax news agency, Sorokin denied the existence of a serious problem at the tournament.
FIFA did not respond to an IPI request for comment for this article.
Gorjestani said she had not been contacted by either FIFA or the local organizing committee after she spoke out about harassment.
“But honestly, I don’t know what they can really do about it”, she commented. “You can’t put a security guard behind every reporter, and we don’t want to be completely cut off from fans because the majority of them are fun and bring colour and atmosphere.”