What an incredible week for women’s sport in particular, women’s football. The women’s England football team, the Lionesses may have lost out at the semi-final stage in the FIFA 2015 Women’s World Cup but oh my goodness, what a way to leave the World Cup! They entered the tournament without the same kind of support the men’s team gets: their matches screened on BBC Three and the ugly ‘jokes’ about women’s footballers appearing in the next FIFA computer game were still ringing in the country’s ears.
This is when something amazing happened.
The Lionesses had a great tournament and suddenly people who had never given women’s football a second thought were starting to give the England team some credit. But in *that game* against Japan where Laura Bassett somehow managed a freak own goal that prevented them from going to the final, we saw a team who still loved her and a country that was largely still behind her and that wants to see more.
It might be difficult for someone who has never really been involved in women’s team sports to understand the love and support that is given so freely. The perception can be that you get a group of girls together and suddenly they’ll become bitchy and tear strips of each other. This couldn’t be farther from the truth! We know that you win as a team and you lose as a team. All of us, together.
What is it about women’s sport that makes it so compelling?
I think sportswomen don’t want to be seen as “weak” so they don’t tend to dive and roll around on the floor pretending to be in agony and then hop up two seconds later and gambol off like a bunny! If women in other sports are anything like the women in our league, if they can, they get back up again and try again. In roller derby, how many times have you resisted a pretty massive back block and could have stumbled but you didn’t because that is not how one plays roller derby – men and women for the record! Football seems to be at the very height of that kind of asshattery and as such a prominent sport that I do fear (rightly or wrongly) that it can seep in to other sports.
With football, the women’s game is a purer version of the sport – back to basics where you see athletes passing the ball, smart game play and some pretty sweet goals, certainly none of this hogging the ball, diving or biting nonsense. The heart and the courage that these women have shown is something that I see in my teammates and my opponents on the track every single week, so to see my experience of a team on the screen fills me with pride for me and what I’ve achieved, for my team and how wonderful everybody is and also for these women who have flown out to Canada to show the world what they are made of.
We are proud of the Lionesses because we get it. We know what it is to be so fiercely proud of what you do that you work on your skills and your health and your fitness almost to the point of obsession whilst you are still trying to hold down a job, a family and a social life. It is a constant juggling act, and sometimes I drop a ball but sometimes I drop the lot, but my team, my colleagues and my family help me pick up my balls and start juggling again. I’ve totally overstressed my metaphor but you get what I mean!
What now for women’s sport?
Men’s football is a charmed sport because people just throw money at it but I hope that the women’s team starts to get the attention they have worked so hard for and in turn raises the profile of women’s sport in general. Unfortunately, there is so much money in men’s football that it is to the detriment of other sports – we are looking at you Hull FC, shame on you!
The problem is that the problem is cyclical. Girls are not routinely encouraged to pursue sport whether they show early promise or not. But it also doesn’t really matter because the funding isn’t there in the first place at the moment to make sport a viable career choice – take a look at an article from the BBC talking about female footballers’ earnings—but things are improving.
Things are improving with encouraging women to get into sport, too, even if it is later in their lives. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign has made a big impact and showed ordinary women enjoying sport and exercise.
We’ve been delighted to participate in FREESport with Nottingham City Council so the women of Nottingham could try roller derby for free. Not only have we had a greater skater retention rate than in previous recruitment intakes, but we also met 20 women who might not have been introduced to our sport otherwise and that is amazing.
There is still a way to go with celebrating women’s sport but the Lionesses in the Women’s World Cup have done a pretty great job of showing that women’s sport absolutely needs to be taken seriously. There are women up and down the country who only need someone to reach out to them and tell them that they may not make a world cup, but it’s pretty awesome to strap on some boots, shoes or skates and find out how far you can take your love of sport.