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Home   /   “You’re a woman, how come you know anything about football?” – Football, it is still a man’s game

From part-time players to sell-out crowds, women’s football is on the rise, but what is preventing it from reaching the very top of world sport?

There has never been more support for women in football. Following on from the success of the 2021 European Championships and wider coverage of the Women’s Super League, women’s football has experienced a huge popularity spike over the past five years. However, whether it is stereotyping and misogyny, or simply just a lack of opportunities, women continue to face barriers when involving themselves in various capacities within football.

Alyson Rudd is an esteemed individual in the field of football journalism, currently holding a position as a sportswriter at The Times. Starting her career as one of very few women working in this field, Rudd has experienced a fair amount of discrimination because of her gender. However, she admits that it wasn’t just when she started out as a football journalist that she experienced these barriers and that it is still prevalent today:

“There is misogyny that if you’re a woman and doing well that you must be sleeping with someone which I find deeply offensive, and someone did once say that to me. When they left, they said it took them ten years to realise I wasn’t sleeping with the boss, which is bizarre because I have never known anyone who is more happily married than me, I would never do that and it’s just so insulting.”

Being on the receiving end of sexist comments which display stereotypes and misogyny continues to be one of the leading factors preventing women from involving themselves in football. A mix of naivety and a lack of education means that women looking to get into the sport feel as though it is not where they belong, causing many to give up before they have even started.

In a statistic reported by Women in Football, 82% of women within the sport in 2023 had experienced discrimination at work, up from 66% in 2020. Despite the increase in support, this shows that the situation is only worsening when it comes to sexism and misogyny in football. Whilst this is the case, it is hard to imagine a time where women are not facing sexism as a barrier to involvement within football.

Libby Oyetunde is the current captain of the University of Brighton Panthers’ second team and has played football since she was ten years old.

When speaking about her journey within football, Oyetunde highlighted lack of opportunities at a young age as one of the more severe barriers that she had faced:

“I realised that I really enjoyed football, so I started playing when I was in year six for my local team and loved it. This caused me to play at my secondary school when I moved there too. When I moved, I started playing for the school, but it was not a very high standard, and a lot of the girls did not really play football at this time. There was not a lot of football to play.”

Despite the recent spike in popularity, many schools and local teams still fail to offer women’s teams like they do for men, causing younger girls to become disinterested and ultimately, give up.

This can be seen through data provided by the FA itself. In 2022, only 63% of primary and secondary schools across the UK offered girls the same to chance to play football as the boys in Physical Education. When it gets to the statistics for secondary school, only 44% of girls get the same opportunity.

Without the opportunity to participate, there will remain to be a ceiling for women’s football at a participation level. The support for the sport may be growing at the top of the tree, however with little support at grass roots level, the whole cycle will stagnate if this barrier is not rectified.

Abbie Britton is one of two coaches, alongside Aaron Wakely, at the helm of Exeter City Football Club’s women’s team. Like many women involved in coaching, Britton’s career started because of participation. After her playing career ended due to injury, Britton moved into coaching with Exeter City in 2019.

When speaking about barriers she faced during her career, Britton revealed that she frequently received discriminatory comments when she was participating at a young age.

“I remember being the only girl on the school and grassroots team, often managers would ask if I wanted to play with the boys, in case I got hurt, which just spurred me on even more. Coaches and parents would question why a girl was playing. I have been lucky since then not to face too much prejudice, I see it, but luckily not been part of it.”

As with Oyetunde, Britton said that much of the discrimination faced was during her playing career. However, she also alludes to the fact that she has seen prejudice against women, which is unfortunately a common occurrence. Research released in March by Kick it Out revealed that 57% of female coaches had been spoken to differently while coaching due to their gender, 55% remember having their opinions ignored or doubted, and 48% have been questioned on their knowledge of the rules of the game.

Despite a steady rise in opportunities for women in football coaching, the statistics show that women continue to get discriminated through sexist or misogynistic remarks. With many women quitting the industry for this reason, the solution does not require an increase in drive behind coaching engagement, but instead a focus on impartiality within these opportunities.

The very least that women can be granted in football is equal opportunity; And whilst Rudd, an individual who has achieved at the very highest of her field, acknowledges that progress has been made, she believes that in some cases the lack of equality is still easily visible.

“People are changing, like anything it’s a process” she says. “However, I think most editors would be slightly embarrassed if they surveyed their staff and just saw the imbalance.”

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June 2024