For the sake of female sport, football needs to come home

For the sake of female sport, football needs to come home

A summer of immense female sport awaits, as do the athletes armed with a point to prove.

Jess Ennis-Hill crossing the 800m line, arms aloft in her final heptathlon event of the 2012 Olympics.

Hollie Pearne-Webb’s winning backboard-clattering shot during 2016’s Olympic hockey final shootout.

Helen Housby scoring the winner in last year’s Commonwealth Games netball final.

These are watershed moments in modern female sporting history.

These flashes of greatness have dramatically shifted perceptions of female athletes. They have commanded respect, heightened public interest and driven grassroots participation in women’s sport – netball and athletics in particular.

But so many sports remain chronically unsupported, underfunded and un-professionalised. That’s why we need this to be another summer of success that truly captures the attention of sports fans, like London 2012, or last year in Russia.

And we might be on the brink. The Lionesses have already nudged their way past Scotland at the women’s football World Cup. Three points on the board and proof that the VAR debate is genderless. 6.1 million people tuned-in to watch the game, making it the UK’s most watched female football game ever. Those who would sneer at the women’s game and post vile comments on Twitter have been drowned out.

We have to recognise the significance of this. Women’s football suddenly has the power to be influential.

The game was starved of oxygen for half a century at what could have been its most pivotal point. The FA effectively banned women’s football in 1921 following a period of unparalleled growth and support during the war years. The game was “quite unsuitable for females” they said.

That the women’s game now lacks a rich heritage and lags behind the men’s is not our fault. It has been plagued with inequality, discrimination and prejudice.

But it’s on the way back.

England Women winning the World Cup would be ground-breaking (especially after the semi-final heartbreak of 2015). Winning is a habit. So not only would it inspire every level of the women’s game, it would create a sense of momentum for all elite female athletes this summer, namely at July’s Netball World Cup in Liverpool.

With women’s sport on the cusp of achieving long-awaited credibility, Gabby Logan has warned: “it needs to be now”.

I’m inclined to agree.

Back to thoughts