Saturday, 21 June 2014

Promoting young English talent...

The Football Association insists the Women’s Super League will avoid relying on foreign players

The Football Association insists the Women’s Super League will avoid relying on foreign talent and instead is geared at aiding the national side with emphasise on youth development. The WSL has expanded to two divisions in its fourth season and the number of overseas players is currently sits at 16%, its highest level to date.

Whilst no-where near as high as 64% of overseas players in the men’s Premier League, Katie Brazier, the head of women’s leagues and competitions at the FA, stressed the importance of developing home-grown players.

“We are very aware of concerns that have been raised and the dangers of following the trend in the men’s game.” the former Director of Sponsorship at British Swimming said.

“Of course there are benefits to bringing foreigners over because our women will be playing alongside top quality internationals and can gain from those experiences. But we know we need to maintain that balance because we don’t want home grown players stuck on the bench and missing game time because foreign players have taken their place in the side.”

Although the FA is unable to cap the amount of players in a team who are part of the EU state, they have restricted a maximum of two players per squad who require a work permit.

The WSL also implemented the ruling stating 50% of squads must be home-grown – therefore the players have developed in England for three years up to the age of 21.

Currently Liverpool Ladies, last season’s WSL champions, have six foreign players in their squad – the highest number in the league. Whilst Chelsea Ladies are just behind with five in their side, and Arsenal have recruited Japanese World Cup winners Shinobu Ohno and Yukari Kinga.

Football Association women’s football director Kelly Simmons revealed the difficulties of regulating the amount of foreigners in the game to aid the future of the national game.

“It’s a challenge – under European regulation, there is completely free movement. We do try and restrict non EU players coming in, but we need to get that balance right,” she said.

“We want players to learn from the top international players but we have to make sure there is space for England youth players to come through as well to support the national side in years to come.”

Not all sides in the WSL have bought in foreign talent – Everton Ladies have an entirely British squad whilst Birmingham City and newcomers Manchester City have employed just one foreign player each.

The Sky Blues made headlines however by purchasing the England quartet of goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, central defender Steph Houghton, midfielder Jill Scott and striker Toni Duggan before the start of the season.

Manager Nick Cushing stressed how this arrangement will not only benefit the club but also the national side.

“The experience that they have had at international level has given them the mentality and the mind-set that we want at the club,” he said.   

“They will be training and linking up in training and I am sure you will see the benefits when they play together for their country."

The England’s women’s team have had mixed form over the few years, as they went out of the group stages of Euro 2013 but are currently topping Group 6 in the World Cup Qualifies for Canada 2015.

The FA have stressed a desire for English players to return to the WSL from foreign leagues and Brazier believes it is achievable that all athletes in future England squad will have come through the league system in this country.

“The whole system was set up in the first place because it recognised a lot of talented home grown players were going to places like America and Germany,” she explained. “The quality and level of competition wasn’t sufficient here but that is all changing."

“The WSL is really driving forward and picking up momentum and in the future it would be great to see each English squad player having come through our top-flight here. This is something we are working towards and it’s great because I’ve had a chance to speak to a lot of players that have returned and they absolutely love playing over here.”

By Ruth Dacey

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Out with the old, in with the news...

...No More Page 3!

Picture the scene, August 2012, the London Olympics was in full flow. Athletes representing Great Britain were competing in all areas of sport, men and women were bringing in Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in individual and team events. The newspapers were boasting masses of results and daily analysis, littering the pages with Union Jack's and for that summer it felt like a nation was united with it's mutual love affair of sport. 
Why is it then, that the largest female image in the UK's most read newspaper-The Sun, is not of a gold medal winner, a league winning football team or a record breaking boxer? But it is that of a woman showing her breasts! That is the question Lucy-Ann Holmes, founder of the 'No More Page 3' campaign, started asking herself. Lucy began the campaign by writing a letter to The Sun Editor-Dominic Mahon, asking him to politely remove the page 3 image. Since then, with the help of social media, she has recruited more volunteers to join the team and created an online petition with currently over 195k signatures. 

On a personal level, when I began the SOTB website, I wanted to raise the awareness of women's football. It was a daily habit of mine to read newspapers, use social media and visit mainstream sports websites (e.g. BBC, SkySports, BT). Like Lucy, I found myself thrilled with the success of women's sport at the Olympics and the media coverage that surrounded it. I thought this would be a great foundation of future headlines, women would finally get a fairer share of news stories. Of course this wasn't the case, after the hype of Summer 2012, women's sports columns whittled back down to tiny 100-word segments if any. The Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) found through research that only 7% of sports media coverage is devoted to women. 

The Sun considers itself as a family newspaper, yet we see pages and pages of men in clothes running the country, succeeding in sport, politics, finance and other areas. If you went and got a Sun newsaper tomorrow, I can guarantee most of the articles involving women are fashion, body, celebrity or baby related. From the daily updates on Princess Kate's outfit choices, to Rihanna sunning on a beach in a bikini. Fashion tips and health advice on body shape/image in the lifestyle sections and most noticeable of all, the topless model on page 3. As quoted in the NMP3 website: "The front pages is where all the important news gets put. By putting a picture of a woman in just her pants, the newspaper is telling its readers that what is really more important about women is the way they look and their sexual allure. It does't care what they have to say, what their achievements or talents are."

NMP3 have this year raised money and sponsored kits for Nottingham Forest Ladies FCCheltenham Town Ladies FC and Scottish mountain biker, Lee Craigie.  SOTB recently spoke to NMP3 member, Lisa Clarke (pictured below), about the the sponsorships and the NMP3 team's growing success.

So Lisa, what made you personally get involved in the campaign?

I had been on my feminist journey for only a few months to a year I think when I first found NMP3 and it struck a chord with me instantly. For some of my childhood The Sun had been our newspaper of choice at home and still now page 3 is something I see all to regularly in my work as a nurse.
I signed the petition and shared it and then liked the Facebook page and followed on twitter. I instantly became engaged in debates on social media and went on the arrange two local demonstrations supporting the campaign as well as doing local radio interviews. Meanwhile our founder Lucy had been running the campaign with no formal support for the first five months and not surprisingly she became quite burnt out. I was one of the lucky people that she reached out to for help which really surprised me - she obviously saw something in me that I didn't see despite us never having met. NMP3HQ was then born. It started with 6-7 of us and has grown now to approximately 21 with about 12-13 of us currently actively running the campaign together at any given time. I can honestly say I feel completely privileged to be working with such an extraordinary and inspiring team of people.

What is the current amount of signatures on the petition? And did you ever think as a group, it would reach this level?

We hit the 194,000 boom today and have had a flurry of signatures. It's a strange thing. I think as a group we are constantly surprised by the scale and size this campaign has taken on, it's momentum, it's seemingly organic life force of brilliance supplied by our supporters who bring such creativity, dedication and commitment to it.  Yet at the same time I don't think any of us have ever had any real doubts that it would continue to grow, that more and more people would support and that ultimately we will win because we have to, it is completely the right thing, it's common sense.

What support have you had from those regularly in the media (celebrities, sports stars, musicians, politicians, etc)?

We get lovely little occasional surprises from celebrities who pop up and announce their support on twitter or elsewhere. Last week comedian Rhod Gilbert just came out with it beautifully matter of factly on his radio program whilst reviewing the papers and we find a lot of celebrity support comes form comedians who I suppose are good at seeing the ridiculousness of the situation - Chris Addison was there from very early on along as was Jennifer Saunders. The brilliant Chris O'Dowd popped up one evening last year asked where to sign, fought a barrage of trolling with utter eloquence and, when we offered him a T-shirt, he told us he had already bought himself one along with a badge. We've had overseas support from Roseanne Barr and actor Juliette Lewis and in the world of sport in the UK from the brilliant Claire Balding and the Women's Sports Trust.

We have some celebrities who have really gone out of their way for us - Gemma Chan, Emma Freud, Doc Brown (Ben Bailey Smith) and Robin Ince to name but a few.

Tell us about your recent kit sponsorships with Nottingham Forest Ladies FC and Cheltenham Ladies FC. Whose idea was it, how did the clubs feel about it, what reaction have you had, etc?

The idea of sports sponsorship, like many of the best things with NMP3 came entirely from supporters and it instantly made complete sense. The foundations of NMP3 lay in sport, so when we heard from a representative of Cheltenham ladies FC that they were fans of the campaign and were looking for some sponsorship, to share the No More Page 3 message it made instant sense. They had already given it some thought and looked into the feasibility of crowd sourcing for funds. We set up the Nimby account with a goal of a little under £3000 to cover the cost of new kits for the team and within the space of 2 weeks we had made around £10 000, more than triple.

As soon as we passed the original goal (pardon the pun) we started thinking hard about what we could do with the rest of the money. Sticking with the original theme we decided to extend the sponsorship of women's sport. We had a few emails from prospective teams and individuals and in all honesty we went with our hearts and chose Nottingham Forest ladies who were in dire straights financially having lost all of their funding from Nottingham Forest FC. Also, mountain biker Lee Craigie, who as well as being an athlete was involved in Cycletherapy - delivering services to socially excluded young people in Scotland.
All of those we sponsor have embraced the campaign and likewise we have really enjoyed sharing their successes and keeping their sponsors (our supporters) posted about how their sportswomen are doing.

For me the best bit of the partnerships has been watching Forest Ladies play (I'm a life long Nottingham lass) and sharing the action shots from the games from both teams which make me, a 40 year old woman, want to play football having never done so really in my life. It's looking at these images and the inspiration they give that makes you realise how much of a difference it could make to women and girls aspirations and self image if we saw more coverage of women in sports in our media.

The Sun is highly recognised as a newspaper with good sports coverage. However, it's such a shame that there is more emphasis on a topless model rather than articles/pages on female sport. It'd be great in that sense then if more sportswomen got involved in the campaign. Have you got more plans to sponsor any more female athletes or teams?

Well we haven't ruled this out although we have no definite plans for more sponsorship at the moment. Being a group of volunteers (working and caring for kids, having busy lives, etc.) as we all are, tends to mean that keeping the day to day running of the campaign going takes a vast amount of our time and energy. In addition I have always been a keen fitness addict myself and am currently training for my second marathon which I'm hoping to run for Forest ladies who are once again facing big challenges in funding next season.

It seems such a Catch 22 to us that women's sport struggles to engage sponsors and find funding whilst at the same time fighting for even minimum coverage in our mainstream media. Most days in our tabloid press there is a sea of pictures of men in sports gear, image after image of football action shots, all of them men. There is little or no coverage of women engaging in sport despite great successes and yet valuable column inches are devoted to sexualised images of female celebrities and topless pictures of very young women standing in their pants for the sexual gratification of men.

Unfortunately, we see everyday so called 'harmless' sexist banter in the media, especially where sport is concerned. With a government insisting that more people participate in sport regularly, sport is for all, and the recent 'Olympics Legacy', why do you think the general response from those people in power, like that of David Cameron is- If you don't like it, don't buy the paper?

There is a famous tag line used by an American campaign Miss Representation "you can't be what you can't see". It says it all really- if we as a nation are serious about wanting our young women to engage in sport and to exercise then we have to provide them with the inspiration to do that. During the summer Olympics of 2012 and this years winter Olympics our screens were full at times with the sporting achievements of our women. There was never any question that these achievements were any less than those of the male athletes and for a week or two women and girls were treated to a sea of inspirational coverage that showed we could be amazing, impressive and real achievers. That our bodies were not just useable commodities but powerful tools with which we could do great things.

Even when women's sport is covered though, we seemingly tolerate the very sexist behaviour of prominent sport presenters during major events who continue to draw attention to the physically alluring body parts of our female athletes; who suggest the reason a Wimbledon winner may have taken up tennis is she isn't "a looker" or that Jessica Ennis is so good looking she could be "doing other things" rather than wasting her time winning gold for her country. In football we seem to have increasing numbers of professional players linked to violent crimes against women and yet our FA take this trend so lightly that they see fit to give a convicted rapist back his very well paid job following his release from prison so that he can continue, despite his terrible crime, to be a role model to young boys and men.

Sadly women's sport makes up only 5% of sports coverage on average, the same as men's darts. Given that we aren't overrun therefore with young men desperate for the accolade of becoming the next big darts champion why are we surprised that on the whole young women aren't falling over themselves to take up football or athletics? Instead we overwhelm young girls and their male counterparts with a sea of sexualised women's bodies often broken down into parts. Despite a wealth of evidence of the damage this causes to boys views and behaviour towards women and girls, along with women and girls' view of themselves, despite signing up to an EU commission promising to reduce sexualisation and stereotyping of women - still our government fail to take this matter seriously.

As a campaign, we are not asking for legislation to end page 3, but it says a lot when our prime minister laughs at and belittles a female MP in parliament who dares to stand up and point out the connections between sexually objectifying images on page 3 and the huge, on-going problem of violence against women.

What big events have you got coming up in the NMP3 calendar?

Well we are having quite a week this week with lots of people joining in and sending us videos encouraging The Sun to #keepitup and drop page 3 for good after leaving it out of their free, world cup marketing copy. We have also heard of the support of another big organisation to be announced soon (shhh it's a secret).

Next week we have our AGM. As we are scattered all over the country the occasions we do get together are always full of energy and its then that we get some of our best ideas. I know we really want to do some more real life demonstrations and events up and down the country if we can and we are increasingly going into schools and colleges to discuss sexism, media and relationships so this is a growing area of the campaign.
Meanwhile we continue to keep up the pressure via social media, to keep pointing out the obvious - that in 2014 it is no longer acceptable that 50% of the population are represented 5 days a week in our best selling paper as nothing more than sexual entertainment for the other half

And lastly, with the success of Twitter support and t-shirt sales, what other ways can people get behind the campaign?

To be honest just about anything goes. Tell friends and family, keep the conversation going about gender equality and media equality. If you are a member of a group or organisation you could talk to them about the backing the campaign. If you are still at school or college why not get in touch and see if we can organise to come and talk or run a workshop? You could write to your MP or local paper, ask your local radio station if you can come on and talk about your support for the campaign, write a poem, make a short film, send us a pic of you in your T-Shirt and mostly just keep checking in and inspiring us to keep going. We really do rely on you all. This campaign truly is people power in action, whether that's the powerful kick of one of our strikers or that one extra signature you land for us when you chat to someone at work, either way - nice one, back of the net!!

Thanks Lisa for your answers and for that insight behind the scenes at the NMP3 HQ. Whether you are a football fan or not, whether you read or care about what is in the newspapers or not, the message NMP3 sends out is that sexually objectifying images representing women in the national newspapers are a thing of the past. Get behind the campaign by Twitter, Facebook, buying a T-Shirt or signing the petition. Hopefully one day we can turn to the sports section and see full page spreads on the FA Women's Super League matches for a change!