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Women's Football Woes

How many of us can name three or more male footballers?

Okay, but how many of us can name three or more female footballers?

Males have dominated group sports for centuries, and these sports have historically been managed by males.

Growing up I have always been an active child, in predominantly independent sports. From dancing to tennis, gymnastics to diving. I have done many different independent sports, but I have been playing the group sport of football for a while now – and I have been watching it for even longer - and there are many difficult problems under the surface that not everyone sees the extent of until you are part of the community yourself.

Through both online and real-life situations, as soon as women’s football is mentioned it is completely frowned upon. As soon as it is brought up, a swarm of groans is heard for miles around.

Perhaps we should be grateful for how far women’s football has come, especially following the lionesses win at the Euros in the summer of 2022. However, there is still a very long way to go. Football was established over 100 years ago in 1863; the women’s game has been professionally played for only the last three decades, since 1991.

The first men’s football match was on the 30th November 1872 and the first men’s league was formed in 1888. This is very different story for women. The ban on women’s football in England wasn’t lifted by the football association until 1971, one hundred years after the first English men’s game. The first fully professional women’s league wasn’t formed for another twenty years. Women are still fighting daily for their half of the sport to be recognised.

One other situation for you to take into consideration is that during the early 1910s, Dick Kerr Ladies were one of the first women’s football teams in England. Their popularity grew and grew until they were constantly playing in-front of crowds made up 10,000 – 30,000 people. Their audience often surpassed the audience attending the men’s games. They even played against them, and won! So why was women’s football banned?

Women in football recently conducted a survey revealing that more than two-thirds of women who have played the game have experienced sexism and many have to deal with it every day, making it one of the biggest problems that we face in the sport.

During the recent events of the women’s Euros, British businessman - Simon Jordan - called the quality of their game ‘poor’ and ‘unenjoyable’. The FA have even historically discussed that ‘the game of football is unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’. This constant backlash for the sport from big faces creates a black hole for any type of player that must fight against the challenging things said against them and their sport.

It is horrifying knowing that because sexism and misogyny is such a huge problem in women’s football, organisations and campaigns have been made to try to solve them. #Hergametoo, founded by Leah Case and Eve Ralph, is a group of female supporters who are passionate about football and are working to eradicate sexism in the football industry, aiming to help women and girls of all ages to feel confident and safe without the fear of sexist abuse.

Speaking on the matter, English Lioness, Lucy Bronze, stated that she doesn’t know anyone she has ever played with who has not been on the receiving end of online abuse. So why does no one ever take this seriously? If mostly every female footballer has dealt with some form of sexist abuse in their life, then why is it not brought up more? Women’s voices are silenced. We are living in a society where women are still stereotyped against playing sports like football and rugby, we are encouraged to think we shouldn’t do this, we shouldn’t do that, with no say in it ourselves.

This not only effects how girls see their place in the sport, but it affects them mentally, physically, and they deeply fear that taking part in sports like this will lead them to being labelled, which can cause many challenging thoughts in a young person’s mind.

Young girls in sport face an increasing amount of pressure causing them to stop playing sports, causing body issues or serious damage to mental health only because we can’t be treated the same way as boys and men can.

A 2017 survey of 25,000 girls and boys in England and Northern Ireland found that both genders understood the importance of an active lifestyle but it was girls that still struggled to reach the daily requirements. This is because of lack of confidence and a lack of encouragement: but what are we doing to try and make a difference? These are just some of the many issues that surround women trying to make it in the world of sports. In order for women in sport to take the centre of the stage, a shift in thinking, television and media coverage is necessary.

Another massive problem in the women’s football industry is homophobia. Sports engagement manager Erin Williams spoke up in an interview with Metro Sport about how she was treated as a young girl playing football, telling stories of parents not letting their kids play football because they ‘don’t want them to become a lesbian’ and constant bullying from teams throughout her childhood.

Research shows that in Europe, 82% of LGBTQ+ people who take part in sport have witnessed homophobia in the past 12 months. This just shows that there is too many young people – male and female - that are stopped from playing what they love just because of experiencing homophobic slurs on the pitch, tormenting rumours about their sexuality, making them feel unsafe in a sport that should be for everyone, but why isn’t it seen as it is?

A ground-breaking survey released earlier this year showed that over a million girls in the UK lose interest in sport as teenagers. 68% said they feared feeling judged and 61% said they lacked confidence.

In this day and age, football should be seen as a game for anyone and enjoyed by everyone.

Now, to help these problems going into the future, we need to break down gender stereotypes. Teammates, peers, teachers, coaches, and parents need to create an environment where girls can play football, and even where boys can play sports like netball. By breaking down and eradicating these thoughts within in society, we will help to give young people equal opportunities. We need to create a safe environment where bullying is not tolerated, there is no abuse, and it is an open space for anyone to feel safe and secure.

Taking everything into account, I love sport, I always have, and I always will. I love the fact that it has the distinctive ability to bring people of all backgrounds and cultures together, it allows everyone to be themselves and share what they love with others.

Why do we have such a dark side to such an inclusive community?

Why can’t we all see each other’s differences for the better?

By Maija A – 11JWN


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