In the UK this week, 17.4 million people watched England’s women beat Germany to win the European football trophy (soccer if you are in the US or Australia).
Such talent, strength and fitness in the Lioness squad, managed by a talented woman. Now, lots of people are talking about encouraging women and girls to play more sport at every level.
Professional women’s sport has not been around long. When my sister played cricket fifty years ago in Australia, and then gave her time and energy to management and team selection, nearly all women sports stars were amateur. She worked tirelessly to get funds, sponsorship and recognition for international women’s cricket.
It took time to overcome prejudice and sexism. Women cricketers have only been paid full time for the last 10 years.
In football, similar stories of discrimination and lack of opportunity have been all over the news this week – especially the fact that a thriving women’s football competition was banned in 1921, because men decided it was ‘unsuitable’ for women to play. In the last generation, girls and women have played but have been largely ignored.
Now, with a trophy to hold high, the English women are adored!
The average Women’s Super League player in the UK earns £47,000 a year (US$57,000), based on figures from 7 of the 12 teams. Top players in America might earn 10 times that. Of course, the average for men in the UK Premier League is much higher – £3.1 million! Lower division players might earn £200,000. Clearly, after last weekend, that huge differential does not reflect consumer demand.
But there are some aspects of the men’s game I don’t want for women. I don’t want women’s football to be a cynical business that seems glamorous but which treats players like commodities and enthusiastic fans like consumers. We certainly don’t need the violence or racism of the men’s competition. Women’s football reminds us why it is called the Beautiful Game. I hope there can be a balance of fair reward and fair play.
Apart from professional sport, there are many reasons to encourage all girls and women to participate in sport and physical activity. It doesn’t take a genius to surmise that active children are happier and healthier.
Most western nations face an obesity crisis: 41% of 10 year olds in the UK are overweight or obese. Physical activity – sport and exercise – is one of five main factors in overcoming obesity. And as 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 8 boys is unhappy with how they look, then sport will not just contribute to better physical health but help to promote healthy body image as well.
Research last year also showed that sporty kids are more resilient, more trusting of others, and less likely to feel lonely.
PLUS there are benefits for the community: the volunteering associated with sports brings individual mental wellbeing, and social and community development.
What’s not to love!
But my favourite bit about the win last weekend is that it might just eclipse the stupid coverage of sporting wives and girlfriends – the WAGS. Recently, two footballers wives in the UK were embroiled in a sordid and pointless court case about who-said-what-about-whom. We can say goodbye to social media gossip about their make-up, fake tans and extravagant lifestyles!
And instead, we can celebrate healthy, hard-working talented women who actually PLAY sport and contribute to national joy.