• Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Sports

‘Women’s football needs to be proactive to ensure diversity’

Adviser wants to ensure pathway for girls of colour from disadvantaged backgrounds

Arsenal recently came under criticism for a women’s team photograph that had no ethnic minority player

By: Eastern Eye

A LEADING diversity adviser has warned that football risks losing a generation of ethnic minority female football players unless it shifts gears and becomes “proactive not reactive”.

Earlier this month, Arsenal football club were criticised for a women’s team photo that had no ethnic minority player.

The photo, posted on Arsenal’s social media platforms, included 27 players and head coach Jonas Eidevall.

The club admitted that the current women’s first-team squad does not reflect the “diversity that exists across the club and the communities we represent” and insisited that “increasing participation among young women and girls from diverse backgrounds” was a key priority.

The Football Association’s diversity adviser, Paul Elliot, said there needed to specific focus on making the game accessible to “women of colour”.

“I have 40 years of experience in football to understand the finer nuances especially when people of colour are spoken about,” said Elliot.

“The focus tends to be on black men and when women are talked about the focus needs to capture gender diversity.

“We have to be mindful and cognisant of the 21st century challenges in the game to get greater diversity across the women’s game at all levels to ensure there is a pathway for young women of colour particularly those from low socio-economic and disadvantaged backgrounds.”

In 2021, it was estimated that the proportion of black, Asian and minority players in the Women’s Super League was between 10 and 15 per cent.

There were only three black players in the Lionesses squad that won Euro 2022, with none starting in the final victory over Germany.

At this year’s World Cup, Jess Carter and Lauren James did get regular minutes for Sarina Wiegman’s side but were the only ethnically-diverse players in the squad.

Earlier this year, a review into women’s football – chaired by former Lioness Karen Carney – identified the need to create greater diversity on and off the pitch. Ex-Brighton defender Fern Whelan said in the report that the lack of diversity across the women’s game needed to be “urgently addressed”.

“We have lost two generations of male black players who never had the equal opportunity to transition into coaches, managers and administrators so it would be a huge dereliction of football’s duty if they allowed the women’s game to emerge the same way,” said Elliot. “The social, human and economic imperative of diversity is beyond reasonable doubt to all football clubs. The data is clear. I just want football to consistently do the right thing and be proactive not reactive.”

On Thursday (26), the FA celebrated the influence black females have had on the national sport with a special theatre production celebrating racial diversity in women’s football.

Still We Roar – an idea devised by the FA’s equality, diversity and inclusion officer Leah Forino-Joseph – highlights the inspirational stories of Kerry Davis, England’s first black player, Hope Powell, England’s first female and black manager and Mary Phillips, England’s first black captain.

“The core concept of the play focuses on three black women who have been role models of the highest order and have made a positive contribution to English football at the highest level,” said Elliot. “Many will remember the Three Degrees Cyrille Regis, Lawrie Cunningham and Brendon Batson and the generations of male black players that emerged on the shoulders of these great players like myself and many others that experienced the most horrific, unacceptable level of abuse.

“But the story of the courage and bravery of these three strong black women must be remembered and amplified too. Their resilience has undoubtedly been their brilliance.”

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