Over the past couple of decades discrimination and equality have been brought into sharp focus within football culture. Recently, issues of racism, sexual orientation and religion have been thrust into the spotlight through a number of high profile incidents involving both players and fans. With measures being put into place in a bid to abrogate these matters, the sport is now looking to address another broad affair concerning sexism.
As part of this process, football organization Kick it Out organized a summit hosted at ManchesterCity’s Ethiad stadium. The main goal of this summit was to discuss and examine the attitudes involving women in football within the industry itself. The meeting was attended by an array of women who hold some sort of connection to the sport, be it as a player, coach, agent, or journalist, giving them all a space to express their opinions on the current representation of women in football. However, the central focus on this summit’s agenda was more business related, debating over the presence in the more private spheres of football such as the boardrooms of clubs and governing bodies, rather than matters on the pitch.
This summit marks a pivotal discussion in the development of women’s activity and participation in the game, providing many with a space to deliberate the issues and potential opportunities available to them, and in turn creating an important platform to push on further with into the future.
This is of particular interest to England women’s captain Casey Stone who is looking at the future options available to her in football when she eventually decides to hang up her boots. When asked about current women’s involvement in football, the England centurion told BBC Sport that “We are moving in the right direction, although there is still a long way to go.” Having directly experienced the incremental growth of women’s football in recent years, she is hoping to move into new areas of the game, something she is clearly anticipating with practical optimism.
Her positive outlook is certainly justified; women’s football has undoubtedly changed significantly over the past decade, with its prominence and coverage particularly in the London 2012 Olympics. At the games, a sold out Wembley Stadium watched the national side, helping to promote women’s football into the greater public consciousness. Inclusion in such global events, coupled with an increase in the number of matches and tournaments aired and discussed on mainstream television and sports news outlets, is generating a wider interest and inspiring more young women to take part.
With promising steps forward being made on the pitch, it is off the field, in the backrooms of clubs, governing bodies, and committees, where attention is being focussed now. Football business is an area of the game that has traditionally been male dominated on virtually all fronts, leaving many aspiring women feeling bounded in their attempts to carve out a career in the global game. However there is a movement amongst players, coaches, clubs, and the FA that is seeking to offer more opportunities to women in the more mainstream way that they are offered to men.
There have been key appointments in recent years that have given cause for optimism, notably Karren Brady and Margaret Byrne, who currently run West Ham United and Sunderland respectively, while ManchesterCity has Vicky Kloss as director too. As well as this, the FA have been actively embracing equal opportunities in its infrastructure, appointing Heather Rabbatts as the body’s first female board member back in 2011 and also making Kelly Simmons director of the national game in 2012. There are also, of course, the likes of Gabby Logan who presents BBC coverage of football and rugby, and Kelly Cates, co-host of BBC 5-live phone in show 606, who prove that women are a growing presence in the mainstream football media industry.
It is inspiring figures such as these that have, in recent years, truly personified a change in the way the very fabric of football is run. This is something Casey Stone feels we should be seeing much more of, explaining that “we need to aim to get to a point where the culture is that women are accepted in football, so that it becomes normal for people to see women in some of the most powerful jobs in the game. If there are more women at the top, then that will filter down to the rest of the game and open doors.”
Progress is being made to help contradict the misconception of women in football, and in turn redefining systems employment and representative structure as a whole. Thankfully, modern society has evolved and over time garnered a more enlightened perspective in relation to individuality and equality. This growing attitude has, in recent years, begun to percolate into the overall ethics and principles of football, and sport as a whole. There is, however, more work that needs to be done in the alleviation of discrimination from the game. Yet there are positive steps moving forward on this front, pointing to a brighter future for a healthier sport.
What work needs to be done in order to embrace women into mainstream football? What are the current attitudes towards women in football and how will increased opportunities benefit the game?