England’s 8-0 demolition of Norway – in what had been thought to be a close game by the pundits – not only ensured their passage to the Quarter Finals of the women’s European Championships, but also that the women’s game was on the main news bulletins and the back pages this morning.
Rightfully so too, given the quality of the football on show, and the crowds that are attending the matches reflect that. 70,000 at Old Trafford on Friday and 30,000 down in Brighton last night for England, but packed grounds everywhere else too.
That is all excellent news of course and at least shows some growth from the FA since the dark days as recently as 2020 when the organisation’s then chairman, Greg Clarke was forced to resign after his dreadful sexist comments to a government select committee, when as well as some extraordinary views on sexuality he claimed that “[women] don’t like having “the ball kicked at them hard”.
Indeed as recently as February this year, the FA found itself criticised for its “outdated” attitudes to transgender players, with one telling Pink News they’d quit football because: “Being made to feel unsafe in a space that was created to give us somewhere safe to play football has been an overwhelming experience to say the least,” which might go some way to underlining the work they still have to do.
It’s interesting to contrast the somewhat archaic approach of the FA with our own.
Since the formation of the company over 30 years ago, we were bound by one principle: football is for everyone. We were proud to be the first company in the UK to allow women’s teams and mixed teams to play in our leagues.
The message we have is simple: if you are 16 and over and want to play, then you can. And you absolutely should.
The FA made huge noise earlier in the year when it appointed Debbie Hewitt as Non-Exec Chair in 2022. So what? We’ve had female Execs for a quarter of a century. Equality isn’t something you should need to work on. It should be at the heart of all you do, without even thinking about it.
We’ve brought the women’s game to the world too. Leisure Leagues Pakistan broke the mould with a female referee and won an award from the United Nations for their work in developing the game and bringing it areas that it had never been before.
Likewise in the USA, Australia, Lithuania, Mexico, Hungary and everywhere else where people gather to play in our network, women’s and mixed teams have found a home they haven’t had before.
So, whilst we hope that the women’s Euro’s inspires a generation of players to take up the game and get the enjoyment of the greatest sport in the world, it doesn’t have to be done the FA’s way.
Any of our leagues in around the world will welcome women’s teams, mixed gender teams and anyone who loves the game and wants to get fit in their community. That’s all it should have been about, and many could have learned from us.
Good luck to the Lionesses. Bring it home.
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