A “sea change” in perceptions is needed to convince girls they can play any sport they want, says a Football Association official as interest in women’s sport soars.
England’s women footballers reached the 2015 World Cup semi-finals and the same stage at last year’s European Championship — attracting a peak TV audience of four million people.
The country’s women cricketers and rugby players have also enjoyed notable success on the global stage in recent years, with Lord’s packed for England’s win against India last year in the Women’s World Cup final.
Marzena Bogdanowicz, head of marketing and commercial for women’s football at the FA, told a panel in London discussing unlocking the potential of women in sport, that she had been struck by a story about a young girl who wanted to take drastic measures so she could play football.
“I read on social media the other day this little girl came home and said to her mother ‘I want to be a boy mummy’ and this carried on for a whole week,” she said.
“Then finally the mum realised actually the only reason she wanted to be a boy was because she wanted to play football.
“The little girl managed to find a programme for football for girls. This is an instance where we can help the club change the perception it is OK for girls to play football.
“It is just amazing that is still happening and we are slowly changing that. This girl is now playing for her local club, she is confident and bold and got new friends.”
– ‘Marginalised’ –
Bogdanowicz, in her role since 2017, said it was important to learn lessons from such cases.
“It is really sad that she believed she had to be a boy to play football,” she said. “It almost made me cry. Perceptions, though, are those things you don’t need investment for.
“They just need a sea change, an area where the media can help in delivering the message ‘it is OK for girls to play any sport they want’.”
Alex Teasdale, senior growth projects manager at the Rugby Football Union, said women rugby players had faced hurdles in being accepted.
“When I first started in this role five years ago we talked to women in the game about how they felt as part of a rugby club,” said Teasdale. “Many felt very marginalised.
“An early example of that that sticks in my mind was at a particular club the women’s team could not have post-match teas as the television was in that room and the committee were watching something so they had to forego their opportunity of eating.”
However, Teasdale said the tide had turned and women were now seen as part of the fabric of clubs as opposed to being a financial drain.
Teasdale said the division of how many of either sex played the game was irrelevant.
“At the end of the day we mark ourselves on the number of people playing, the number of teams and matches and it doesn’t matter whether they are men or women playing,” she said.
“Clubs have really, really tapped into that and are understanding that now themselves.”
© Agence France-Presse (Additional reporting by John Murphy)