Our PR and Media Lead Fatema Chowdhury looks at how the Women’s Euros, and the roar of England’s Lionesses, is acting as a genuinely transformative moment for women’s football, and sport more broadly.
Dare I say it, football might just be coming home! On Sunday, England’s Lionesses will take on Germany for European football glory. If they win, it’ll be their first time winning the competition and to do it on home soil will be just that bit sweeter.
The immediate cultural effects have been unmissable; packed stadiums, primetime television viewing figures – England’s semi-final victory over Sweden was watched by 9.3 million viewers at its peak – footballers are becoming household names and getting their due credit on the back pages of newspapers and a generation of young girls and women (and everyone else for that matter) are being inspired visibly by the success. A far cry from women’s football being lumbered under “niche” sports when football itself is the biggest sport in the world.
In truth, I’ve personally been surprised by the level of engagement from everyone in the women’s international game. When I was growing up, I wasn’t able to play football after the age of 14, my local team didn’t have the resources, nor was there enough interest among girls to warrant fielding a girls’ team beyond that age. I was disappointed and quickly lost interest in playing the game. I went to an all-girls secondary school, and I could count on one hand the number of times we played football over the course of five years. We were lumbered with more “female friendly” sports much to my personal annoyance. To say I’ve been inspired not only by the success but the response to the women’s game is an understatement.
Women’s football now has the momentum to “inspire positive change” that the FA and UEFA are seeking as part of their Legacy programme and it’s imperative that we build on this moment to make sure it’s more than just a footnote in history books. This tournament must now be the catalyst to invoke generational change and propel girls and women’s football into the mainstream and keep it there.
This goes beyond the cultural waves of inspiration. Clubs, sponsors, broadcasters now need to make a concerted effort to invest and engage the women’s game to ensure we provide young girls and women the access, the resources, and the monetary compensation to make it a viable option for them to pursue, whether it’s recreationally or professionally.
The impact of placing women’s football on primetime television cannot be underestimated. Broadcasting deals worth between £7-8million with the BBC and Sky have contributed to a record-breaking year for viewership in the Women’s Super League games last season (2021-22 season) with fans watching over 34 million hours, a four-fold increase from the previous season.
These historic viewing figures have been compounded with increased commercial interest. Barclays is set to double its current investment, with more than £30m in women’s and girls’ football over the period from 2022-2025, as well as becoming the first title sponsor of the FA Women’s Championship from next season. The bank will also increase its investment in grassroots development, extending its sponsorship of the FA Girls’ Football School Partnerships (FAGFSP) with the aim of giving girls equal access to football in schools.
The government announced in April this year that it would launch a review into the women’s domestic game and now could not be a more ample time to action it. An in-depth review on the current state of the game and the issues it faces on the back of a successful campaign (trophy or no trophy) would be the perfect opportunity to re-shape the future of the game. But there’s a long way to go, disparities in pay, contract rights, pensions, long-term injury protection, maternity all need to be addressed to ensure women have the same rights and protection as men.
Sponsors need to put their mouth where their money is
Placing the Women’s Euros on centre stage has attracted a flurry of internationally renowned brands, from Visa to Adidas to TikTok, all desperate to show their support for women in football.
But the sad reality is structural disparities in the game reflect wider societal disparities. A recent campaign by Truant London and Talent Ladies Club #PayFair has highlighted the gender pay gaps of some of the biggest sponsors of the Euro’s, calling out the likes of LinkedIn, TikTok, Adidas, Volkswagen, Visa and Booking.com for their quite frankly indefensible gender pay gap records. For every Euro a man earns at Booking.com, a woman earns just 58 cents.
A dire reminder that while big companies have the money to appear outwardly progressive with their sponsorship to bandwagon on a moment in history, the reality is different for everyday women working on the ground. A tone deaf attempt at sportswashing will not serve companies well, especially as consumers are increasing aware of these trends and will align themselves with brands that reflect their own ethical standards. It’s not only time for people to scrutinise structural issues in the football game itself but also those brands that want to capitalise from it, they too must share and implement the very values they’re projecting.
The more everyone – women and men -engage with the women’s game the more social cohesion we’re likely to get, with football becoming a much more pleasant place for women, in a traditionally daunting male-dominated environment. We need men to love the women’s game just as much as women. My football hero was Thierry Henry growing up, I had no idea who the biggest female footballers were at the time. But today’s younger generation are now spoilt for choice, to think there might be for a young girl or boy to have the likes of Beth Mead or Leah Williamson or Lucy Bronze to be inspired is proof that momentum has long been building and I for one am ready for the revolution