- author, Marina Isidro
- scroll, From London to BBC News Brazil
At eight years old, Englishwoman Katie Lawrence already understands what it means to see her country’s women’s team in a World Cup final.
“I’m amazed,” she told BBC News Brazil. “In England, some women cannot achieve their dreams, but now we can play football. I am very proud and satisfied.”
Kitty, who was wearing the women’s team’s jersey, watched the decision against Spain with her family on a big screen set up in a square in London. Even after the 1-0 defeat, grandmother Pauline Lawrence celebrated.
“I played soccer as a kid, but I was never able to progress in the sport,” he said.
This was not due to a lack of will. Until a few decades ago, women weren’t even allowed to play professionally.
Now the Lionesses – the nickname of the women’s team – are beloved by the English, an inspiration to girls and a synonym for success.
Despite the defeat in the final, the English team’s good season inspired the country and gave new impetus to English women’s football.
But to reach this point, experts point out that more investment in the domestic championship and an increase in the quality and quantity of press coverage of women’s football was necessary. Next, understand this path.
From ban to global power
In 1921, there were about 150 women’s soccer teams in the country. The future was promising. But the English Football Association decided to ban this practice in professional stadiums and clubs affiliated with the entity, considering the sport “unsuitable for women.”
The ban was only lifted in 1970, and there was a wait of more than 40 years until the turning point – which concerns Brazil.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Great Britain played against Brazil in front of 70,000 spectators at Wembley Stadium. As the stands filled and the crowd welcomed in, the potential of women’s football became clear.
The Women’s Super League (WSL), a new format for the women’s top-flight league in England, began. In this context came care and professionalism.
Moreover, for Professor Stacey Pope, a specialist in women, sport and inequality at Durham University in England, and author of The Feminization of the Sports Rule, the increased interest in journalism since the 2015 World Cup has been key.
“Before 2015, there was no coverage in traditional media,” he told BBC News Brazil.
“This was the first time all England matches had been broadcast live on the BBC, the public television channel. It was vital because it increased the visibility of women’s sport. It is very difficult for fans to follow and connect with the World Cup from start to finish Without television coverage.
Pope is one of the authors of a study published in the Journal of Sociology of Sport that compared women’s football coverage in five major British newspapers at the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.
In 2019, the number of articles published increased six-fold, and the use of words like “girls” — which, according to research, diminutives female gamers — declined dramatically.
“Not only was there an increase in coverage, but it was respectful, focusing on the technical aspect and the team’s achievements rather than the sexualization of the players, as we often see in women’s sport,” Pope said.
“This also coincided with other major changes. For example, the World Football League became fully professional in 2018, and more opportunities for girls and women to play football. There is no doubt that there is a long way to go to achieve full equality, but the changes we have seen In a short period of time it was enormous.
Investments in the local tournament were reflected in the national team and turned into titles with the signing of Sarina Wegman.
The Dutch coach, the European champion and World Cup runner-up, will take charge of her country’s national team in 2021.
The following year, England won the European Championship by defeating Germany at Wembley in front of more than 87,000 spectators.
The WSL has become one of the strongest leagues in the world, as it brings together stars such as Australian Sam Kerr and Englishwoman Lauren James, who was scouted by Arsenal as a teenager. They both play for Chelsea, the current champions.
But there was room for growth. With the success of the Euro Championship, the FA set targets to increase the number of television viewers and fans in stadiums. In September 2022, the Arsenal v Tottenham match gathered 47,367 spectators, a record attendance for the tournament. Other brands have taken a beating in clubs over the months.
In April this year, in the final stage of World Cup preparations, more than 83,000 spectators watched England beat Brazil in London in the final, a confrontation between the Copa America and European Cup champions.
Wegman turned the England team into an almost unbeatable side – including in the World Cup final, they lost just two games in 39 matches.
The latter record is better than that of the English men. The men’s team lost in the final of the European Cup in 2021 and was eliminated in the quarter-finals in the World Cup last year. Their only world title was in 1966.
When analyzing the future of women’s football in England, Pope highlights the challenges.
“Many fans are frustrated by the punctuality of media coverage, only for a major event like the World Cup. When it’s over, coverage of women’s football declines.”
“Furthermore, there are disparities globally. Professional players continue to work in a more precarious work environment, with lower salaries, shorter contracts and fewer opportunities. They are still expected to choose motherhood or a career. One of my studies showed that there is still hostility towards women’s participation in “Football. Sport is associated with masculinity, and sexism and misogyny exist.”
Also in 2022, the British government commissioned an independent study to analyze the level of women’s football in the country. Published last month, it brought a series of recommendations, such as increasing professionalism and creating minimum salaries for athletes.
According to Pope, the British experience could help Brazil, which was eliminated from the group stage in the World Cup and is searching for an unprecedented world title. There is a key point: spreading women’s football in the country.
“Everyone should have equal opportunities to play sport. There is a lot to learn from countries like England and the United States in terms of the infrastructure that has been developed to help elite sport grow,” he said.
Twenty of the 23 players in the England squad play in the national championship. The WSL season begins in October. It will be a continuation of a growth cycle that lasts more than ten years, without forgetting what needs improvement.
Kitty and the other kids are sure to have someone to look up to.
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