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Tackling inequities and the gender activity gap through football

As UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 starts, our football relationships manager Anna Shiels considers how the tournament can inspire more women and girls to play the beautiful game.

6th July 2022

by Anna Shiels
Football relationship manager, Sport England

After a long wait and a fantastic build-up, today sees the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 get underway in Manchester when England v Austria kicks-off in front of a sold-out Old Trafford at 8pm.

As someone actively involved in bettering the provision of playing opportunities for women and girls for some time, the buzz around the tournament has been phenomenal.

From seeing Lionesses captain Leah Williamson splashed across London’s Tower Bridge to the news that over half a million tickets have been sold, the tournament has huge potential to deliver long-standing change to the women and girls’ game.

The English women's football team celebrates a goal in a warm-up game for the UEFA Euros 2022

The rapid but long overdue growth of the women’s game is inspiring and encouraging, given that many of those attending games are children and young people, particularly girls.

A fifth of tickets have been bought for under 16s, with the hopes that what they see on the pitch might encourage them to lace up their boots for themselves and create a new generation of Lucy Bronze’s and Jill Scott’s.

Pre-pandemic, we found that almost 650,000 women played football in England compared to 3.8 million men.

For young girls, inspiration in the form of projects such as The FA’s Wildcats and Just Play Programmes and the Lionesses charging to the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup in France acted as a catalyst, with the number of women and girls playing doubling after the World Cup.

Currently, 40% of youth clubs have a female youth team with the aim to raise this to 75% by 2024, and 74% of county FAs have a high-quality female youth competition pathway. On a school level, 63% of all schools are now currently offering equal access to girls’ football in PE lessons.

It’s important that we continue to nurture and progress opportunities for girls to play so that inspiration from tournaments such as the Euros have the potential to boost engagement.

The inspiration will go nowhere if there are no local opportunities to try football out.

"From seeing Lionesses captain Leah Williamson splashed across London’s Tower Bridge to the news that over half a million tickets have been sold, the tournament has huge potential to deliver long-standing change to the women and girls’ game."

That’s why in 2020 Sport England committed £1 million worth of investment into legacy groups to help develop and create recreational women’s football opportunities in each of the nine host cities up and down England.

The FA hopes to see 120,000 more girls playing football in schools on the back of the tournament, and that’s one of the reasons they’re a strategic partner of Sport England in helping us tackle long-standing inequalities and the gender activity gap.

Because that’s what Uniting the Movement, our long-term strategy, is ultimately about: a collective movement of people and organisations coming together to tackle inequalities, level-up access and use sport and physical activity to help create more resilient, inclusive and connected communities.

So we’re proud that the £5.75 million investments we made into the FA between 2017 and 2022, have helped deliver the programmes for talented young athletes, including several of the women’s first team.

We’re also delighted to be announcing a brand-new partnership with the FA to help more teenagers engage with the beautiful game.

Be it young girls playing at a grassroots level, to the wider coverage of the elite domestic game, the women’s game has come on leaps and bounds.

The last time England hosted the Women’s Euros in 2005, all games were played solely in the North-West, with the showpiece final in Preston’s Deepdale played in front of just over 950 fans.

While it’s important to look forward, a reminder of where the game has come from enables us to see and celebrate the progress made.

Here’s to a great tournament and many across the nation being inspired.

We hope everyone can get behind the Lionesses throughout the summer and beyond and we’ll play our part to ensure that women and girls that want to give it a go, have an attractive opportunity on their doorstep.

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