Raising Our Game: Why Kick It Out are determined to get more women into football.

November 13, 2013 in Women's Football by Emma Lucy Whitney

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This Monday, I was lucky enough to attend the afternoon session of Kick It Out’s Raise Your Game event at Manchester City’s Etihad stadium. Arriving at City’s ground, I was both excited and nervous, not knowing what to expect, who exactly I’d meet there, and what the event would be like. Well, I needn’t have worried; from meeting fellow attendees who are just as crazy about the beautiful game as I am, to actually getting the chance to talk one-on-one with professional, high-achieving women within the football industry, Raise Your Game was an event that I personally got rather a lot from. Designed by the Kick It Out team to focus on how best to overcome the barriers facing both women already in football, and those looking to work within the industry, Raise Your Game provided the perfect opportunity to take inspiration from those who have already achieved their dreams in football, and left me and all the other attendees with much food for thought.

kick it out raise your game event

Women’s football, and the proportion of women working within the industry, has come a long way since Kick It Out was founded back in 1993 – coincidentally, the same year that the FA first became involved in the women’s game. What is different these days for young girls across Britain who are interested in working in the sport they love is the amount of role models starting to shine through. From Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey to Casey Stoney (one of Monday’s attendees), women’s footballers are slowly but surely becoming household names, thanks in no small part to the fantastic platform provided by the Olympics, and the increasing amount of women’s football in the press and on TV. Female sports journalists, such as Jacqui Oatley, Jessica Creighton and BBC Women’s Sport Editor Shelley Alexander (another one of Monday’s mentors) are becoming more and more recognisable, prevalent and respected. Coupled with such recent instances as Charlotte Green taking on the hallowed mantle of reading the classifieds, and Amy Fearn refereeing the First Round FA Cup Tie between Corby Town and Dover Athletic at the weekend, (the first woman ever to ref an FA Cup match), it currently feels like opportunities are being seized for women to make their mark within the beautiful game, a point which was emphasised and celebrated at the event. Nevertheless, much more still needs to be done.

BBC Sport: Amy Fearn became the first woman to ref an FA Cup match at the weekend, when Dover took on Corby at Steel Park.

There is a persistent perception, after all, that women’s football, and women’s sport in general, doesn’t matter as much as the men’s; the jury’s out as to whether this is down to the media deciding the public’s preferences for them, or more to do with the lack of hype and publicity surrounding women’s football engendering a lack of worth and respect. Just this week, Casey Stoney was responding in The Guardian’s ‘Ask a Grown-up’ feature to the question ‘why is women’s sport not considered as important or interesting as men’s?’ The fact that such questions are still being asked is depressing, but at least they are being asked these days; the barriers are being acknowledged, and therefore challenged, and such challenges can lead to opportunities. The recent restructuring of the Women’s Super League is a case in point; it may have courted controversy, not least with the demotion of Doncaster Rovers Belles, but such a decision by The FA to overhaul women’s football is to me an encouraging sign of commitment and focus. What is needed is for the media, men’s clubs and corporate sponsors to follow suit, and treat the women’s game exactly the same. We live in a society over-saturated with news and information about men’s football, so much so that actually finding out about the women’s game at all can at times seem quite an achievement. In my mind it’s the media more than anything which can alter people’s view of the game, simply by making women’s football easier to access - whether online, in print or on telly – and with more and more women both in sports journalism and broadcasting roles, and the women’s game itself being taken more seriously, I’m confident that things won’t take long to improve even further.

arsenal ladies kick it out raise your game

 

Another point which was highlighted on Monday was the positives that the beautiful game brings to those who enjoy it, regardless of whether it’s the women’s or men’s version. Raised on a pedestal by all who love it, including the press, football in Britain, and especially in England is demonised regularly for all manner of ills, sometimes with just cause, at other times unnecessarily. However, the power of football and football clubs to bring people together and do good in the community is starting to get the recognition it deserves. Features like the current Match of the Day focus on different BPL clubs’ community work are excellent in my opinion, celebrating what’s great about the industry in front of a prime-time audience. Indeed, such schemes form an integral part of so many football clubs these days, and all harness the power of the badge, as one of my mentors on Monday, Monica Golding from the Premier League Charitable Fund, told me. Monica’s message to any woman, young or not so young, reading this and eager to get a foothold in the game they love was simple; be open to all aspects of football. It is, Monica expanded, a ‘multi-faceted’ business, and a microcosm of society. Equally important is never thinking that you can’t do something – which goes for any profession, of course, but perhaps more so for one traditionally regarded as male-dominated and old-fashioned. Another of my mentors on Monday afternoon, The FA’s Equality Manager Funke Awoderu, explained to me how she sees an amazing opportunity right now for football to truly reflect the society it is a part of, and become as inclusive as possible. The Q&A which rounded off the afternoon generated more interesting, engaging discussion, and the point was made that such inspiration and motivation had to be carried out of the Etihad and manifest itself in the coming weeks, months and years.

City in the Community Balotelli Viera

Ultimately, I came to realise that whilst many battles have been won, the war itself is still not quite over regarding the two issues at stake here; women’s football, and female involvement and employment in the game itself. Whether you’re an armchair football obsessive, a season-ticket holder, the next Casey Stoney or a woman who watches just because her sons or brothers do, you should feel like there are opportunities out there for you, and that you don’t have to compromise your femininity for them. The UK lags behind its Continental neighbours in this respect; in Scandinavia especially, the distinction between women’s and men’s football doesn’t exist - it’s just one game. I can’t wait for the day when that’s the case over here. Until then, thanks must go to the excellent Kick It Out for organising such an exciting, motivational event and for Manchester City FC for hosting it; I feel really proud that my club have endorsed such an important event and issue. Football is a fantastic sport for so many reasons. I can’t really describe why I love it so much, I just do, from the despair I feel when City are losing to the utter, visceral joy that hits me when David Silva scores or City thrash United. In my mind nobody, regardless of their gender, race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or ability should be made to feel like they can’t take part in the beautiful game in some shape or form, whether on the pitch, in the stands or in the boardroom. That Kick It Out, City, and so many other inspiring women feel very much the same way is just brilliant.

*NB If any of you are reading this and you’re female, have a hearing impairment and would be interested in playing futsal, please @reply or message @ballsybanter or @emmalucywhitney.

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