Women in Football

Hagel: I needed to do something about sexism in fan culture

Antje Hagel (Fanprojekt Offenbach)
  • Antje Hagel has been recognised for her work tackling sexism in fan culture
  • She is the co-founder of the F_in Women in Football network
  • "We need role models and women who build each other up"

The chants so commonly heard in football stadiums have fallen silent for now; instead, the shouts of coaches and players echo around empty stands that would normally be filled with thousands of fans, both male and female. Yet for women in particular, going to the match is not always an entirely positive experience.

In Germany, suggestive remarks, physical assaults and exclusion are still not uncommon, and Antje Hagel from the Offenbach Fan Project has spent many years highlighting and tackling the problem.

"I come from the women’s movement of the 1980s and have been influenced by that," Hagel explained to FIFA.com when asked what prompted her to campaign against sexism and discrimination within the sport. "I was only introduced to football at the age of 30 and it was clear to me that if I wanted to stick with it, I needed to do something. The sexism was so obvious, even in the early 1990s, that it was clear that it could not continue. There was no specific reason apart from the considerable attention paid to it," she added.

"The whole environment was infused with racism, anti-Semitism and a very distinct culture of masculinity. The way of speaking, the things that were said, the chants shouted and the songs sung – by both men and women. At the same time, though – and this was the point at which there was and continues to be hope – there were still plenty of women inside the stadium.

"There were both men and women who weren’t happy with the situation. We would give each other furtive glances and know that we weren’t alone in feeling that way," recalled the 59-year-old, who was presented with the Sophie von La Roche Award by the city of Offenbach last year for her commitment to the fight against sexism and her work for women and girls within the fan scene.

Raising awareness of this issue among fans both male and female is an important step in the struggle against sexism, sexual violence and other forms of discrimination. This has proven particularly effective within local and national networks of women from different fan culture backgrounds who provide each other with mutual support.

"Even before I started working with the Offenbach Fan Project, I helped to design workshops for those working on fan social education projects," Hagel explained. "The concept of mutually reinforcing each other is a very important one, as you can then reach other groups of people if these women can exert an influence within their own fan culture circles.

"If I see an individual woman and think, ‘Something’s up,’ then I can let her know that she’s not alone. We don’t all need to be friends, but we have to show that nobody is alone if they want to take action against verbal abuse. For a long time now, little attention has been paid to sexism and sexualised violence in football, because there is a narrative that football belongs to men," she said.

"I also think that it’s an important step for women to recognise that this is not just a personal and private problem. It’s about naming, responding to and articulating the things that happen to you and publicly stating that they happen. The second step is networking and seeking out people who can support, protect, strengthen and sustain you. We need to learn to take ourselves seriously and develop the best possible networks – just like men do. I’m convinced that we can build each other up."

Time and time again you hit stumbling blocks and have moments where you think, ‘I’ve had enough’. There are also moments where you are personally attacked. You have to cope with that too, of course, and you need an environment where others support you. You are not alone in the first row. I think that's a nice picture.

Antje Hagel

Antje Hagel – a brief profile

  • Co-founder of the F_in Women in Football network
  • Co-founder of the Kickers’ fan magazine 'ERWIN', named after OFC legend Erwin Kostedde
  • She has supported Kickers Offenbach fans as a member of the club’s fan project team since 2001
  • She brought the "Fantastic Females" exhibition on women in football culture to Offenbach

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