So far they have been the standout team at Euro 2022 with three straight wins, 14 goals scored and none conceded, a player leading the Golden Boot race and games played in front of capacity stadiums. But the positivity surrounding England’s pursuit of glory has been hurt by claims that Sarina Wiegman’s side lack the diversity of the country they represent.
While Gareth Southgate’s England men’s side reached the Euro 2020 final last year with 11 players of black or mixed background in the 26-man squad, only three of the Lionesses’ 23 players – Nikita Parris, Demi Stokes and Jess Carter — are of black or mixed background, and none are expected to start in England’s quarter-final against Spain in Brighton on Wednesday.
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During the English TV live broadcast of England’s 8-0 Group A win over Norway, presenter Eilidh Barbour highlighted the problem, saying: “The 11 starting players and five substitutes who are entered the pitch were white, indicating a lack of diversity in women’s football in England.” Barbour’s remarks prompted a backlash on social media, with high profile commentators outside the game criticizing both the presenter and the BBC for questioning Wiegman’s side, but former England players – including Alex Scott and Anita Asante – both defended Barbour and supported the suggestion. that England’s squad for Euro 2022 does not reflect the demographics of the host country.
“Budding lionesses need role models they can relate to,” Asante, who made 71 appearances for England between 2004 and 2022, told The Guardian. “It’s one of the many reasons why diversity is so important and why it’s legitimate to question the whiteness of the England team.
“Young girls who don’t see anyone who looks like them are running out of heroines to emulate – and that’s important.”
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Such a lack of diversity has not always been a problem within the England women’s team. Scott earned 140 caps between 2004 and 2017, while Rachel Yankey earned 129 caps between 1997 and 2013. Both Eni Aluko and former England head coach Hope Powell feature in the top 10 all-time goalscorers the times in England. But the small number of top black or mixed-race female players in the Euro 2022 squad, as well as in the Women’s Super League (WSL), is a situation that has been identified by the English Football Association, with a plan already in place to ensure future England squads are more representative of wider society.
“I can completely understand Anita [Asante’s] point of view,” Kay Cossington, head of women’s technical development at the English FA, told ESPN. “That’s why it’s really important that we share the work we’re doing to try to find solutions.
“We recognize that it’s not going to happen overnight – we’re not going to find senior players overnight to change that – but what we can do is make sure that in the future, we will do everything we can to try to diversify our youth development teams to enter our seniors of the future.
This is, however, a complex issue and an unfortunate consequence of the professionalisation of women’s football and the growth of the WSL since its inception in 2010. The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has also identified this flaw in recently creating the “See It, Achieve It” Campaign to address the lack of visible role models of diverse ethnic backgrounds. The PFA initiative is led by former England international Fern Whelan, the organisation’s head of equality, diversity and inclusion in women’s football.
“We don’t want young girls to feel like the game isn’t for them,” Whelan said. “The goal of the campaign is to inspire the next generation of young players so they can see the players in those positions and feel like it’s a goal they can achieve.”
From being a sport that grew organically within local communities in England and paved the way for local teams – Fara Williams, England’s most famous appearance starter of all time, was seen playing on a ballcourt in Battersea, London – the women’s game has broken away from its popular, ‘everyone’ origins and is sometimes accessible only to young girls with the family network and financial means to do so.
Steffi Jones and Julie Foudy react to the Euro 22 quarter-finals after Germany’s 3-0 win over Finland.
“We’ve all seen incredible growth in the game over the last decade and that probably reflects what we’re seeing today, where our women’s teams are at with club and country,” Cossington said. “Girls’ Centers of Excellence were established in 1998 and there were many of them across the country, but when the league and the clubs turned professional there was an appetite to try to professionalise the Academy system. and the club youth development system.
“With that came a commitment – the girls had to train three times a week at the academies and then play games at the weekends – but all of a sudden that created a challenge for some players who Furthermore, in an attempt to improve the standard of their facilities, the clubs moved away from the more urban areas and the city center, where most of the women’s clubs were formed and based, towards the leafier suburbs, which again provided a challenge for young girls to actually access these facilities.
“Girls still have to pay to play in the Academy system, but boys are actually paid to do so, and they are often transported to and from training by clubs. There are no resources in women’s football to do so.
“So a combination of events has gotten us to where we are now. It’s not any individual’s fault, but we’ve recognized that and we’re working absolutely very hard with the clubs to try and help them to to provide a diverse pool of players and talent pool within the Academy system that can fill their senior squad and provide players for the England squad.”
The detachment of WSL clubs and their facilities from cities has arguably impacted young girls from traditional homes for sporting talent to progress in the game due to inaccessibility/logistics, cost, or other factors denying them the possibility of committing to the Academy. system. As a result, the FA introduced the Discover My Talent program in 2021, a buddy system that can create a pathway for any girl perceived to have this talent.
Emma Hayes and Danielle Slaton react as Sweden and the Netherlands reach the quarter-finals of Euro 22.
There is also a partnership with the English Football League (EFL) Trust, which is working with 34 Community Trusts across the country, and a link with the Premier League to create 70 Emerging Talent Centers from next season. Additionally, there are “Wildcats Centres” across the country, for girls between the ages of 5 and 11 to take their first steps into the game. All of the above are geographically spread across England, accessible in areas that had become disenfranchised.
“It means young girls can stay in their own community, in an environment that suits them, giving them the competitive balance they need and also allowing them access to a talent pathway in clubs and the career path. talent in England,” Cossington said. “We try to tackle all communities. It’s different races and religions, but also different social demographics – people who live in more urban areas and who may not have the infrastructure, parental support or money.
“It’s always a challenge in women’s football. And while parents might be happy to allow a 12-13 year old boy to take public transport to train at an academy, it would be a challenge. parental decision as to whether you would like to be comfortable with a 12-13 year old girl on the same trip.”
Since its launch in April 2021, the Discover My Talent program has delivered impressive results which the FA hope will reverse the trend towards greater diversity at all levels of women’s football.
“In one year of running Discover My Talent, we had 1,666 referrals that weren’t already in our system, which is way more than we expected,” Cossington said. “Of that number, 204 of those players were referred to our talent pipeline. Those are big numbers.”
According to FA data, almost a third of the players referred came from London and the South East region, with a quarter coming from the North East, which includes Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough. The North East and North West – which includes Manchester and Liverpool – had the highest number of players from the most deprived areas. But having repaired the talent supply line from areas where the game had lost touch, Cossington says the challenge now is to ensure those players progress through the system.
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“The key now is how we can work with local organizations, local community clubs, to tap into funding, transportation support or whatever it is to help these girls stay in the game and get into it. cement it,” Cossington said.
“We don’t want to get them back and then they fall back: how can we best help them? That’s where the EFL Trust comes in, because these coaches are at the heart of those communities. They understand the communities, they have coaches who look like those communities and represent them, and that’s really important because it’s so much better than having someone they don’t know just showing up with an FA badge on their top.
“What we try to do with the Discover My Talent program and the Emerging Talent Centers, we try to find positive solutions for any young girl who shows potential. We try to offer support – that’s key for me .”
England’s progress so far at Euro 2022 is undoubtedly generating huge interest and inspiring potential new talent, but the women’s game lacks role models such as Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka who have become such figures. important in the men’s game. But there is hope that the seeds of change will soon bear fruit.
“It’s definitely something that’s a priority [for the FA]and there are things in place now,” England captain Leah Williamson said in Tuesday’s pre-match briefing. I think that’s really important, it’s something we’re passionate about and thankfully the FA as well. So yes, it’s on the agenda, it’s a priority and it’s something that we hope to see the effects of in the future.”