Friday, 19 June 2015

12 Reasons The FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Is The Best World Cup So Far...

1. Aside from the hosts Canada (who had automatic qualification), 134 countries competed for the 23 remaining places in the finals.  That is the biggest entry out of all six previous FIFA WWC tournaments. In 1991, only twelve countries originally made it through to the first World Cup finals in China.

2. On the week leading up to the first group games, FIFA President-Sepp Blatter, announced his plans to retire from his role after sixteen long and controversial years in charge.

3. The BBC are covering every live game either online or on BBC2 or BBC Three, alongside daily highlight shows, radio and news coverage.

4. With discounts, group packages, day passes and stadium passes available, tickets are both affordable and great value for money.

5. Team spirit is incredibly high and visible across all the games. With barely an ego in sight, emotions run high throughout and a real sense of enjoyment and togetherness is being displayed.

6. Late drama was all the rage in the group stages.

7. The opening game saw a record match attendance of 53,058 to see Canada's win over China, with millions more viewing at home across the world.

8. Everyone loves an underdog. Especially when it affected England's chances of qualification....Colombia 2-0 France.

9. Eight teams made their World Cup debut: Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Thailand.

10. Google did a special doodle.

11. Homare Sawa (Japan) and Formiga (Brazil) pictured below, are making their sixth appearances at a FIFA WWC finals. More than any person has done before (yes, including men).

12. With two FA WSL tiers, full time contracts and more financial support, women's football in England is rapidly growing. The Lionesses have the exciting prospect of a strong, young but equally experienced squad.

With only the group stages complete, many more reasons are to follow. But for now, who could forget England's funny YouTube video upon arrival in Canada, in honour of the Toure brothers: 

Friday, 5 June 2015

BBC Sport panel discussion...

...encouraging more women to get involved in football.

On Wednesday 3rd June, Jacqui Oatley held a panel discussion at the National Football Museum, Manchester. Guests included: Anna Kessel (Guardian Sports Writer), Liz Ellen (Head of Sports Law), Justine Mitchell (Dundee United Director), Rachel Brown-Finnis (Ex-England Goalkeeper), Katie Brazier (FA Head of Women's Leagues), and Sylvia Gore (Ex-England International).

Oatley began the discussion around the recent FIFA headline, with President Sepp Blatter confirming his resignation on Tuesday. The self-proclaimed "Godfather of women's football" could not have picked a better week to steal the headlines away from the upcoming FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. In the same week, the Football Association's only female board member, Heather Rabbatts, has withdrawn from her position on FIFA's anti-racism and discrimination taskforce. Rabbatts stated: 

"Like many in the game, I find it unacceptable that so little has been done to reform FIFA..........My commitment to challenging discrimination across the game remains undiminished and I will continue to work with the FA and other international partners on this fundamental issue in our game."

If the world governing body of football are not doing enough to enforce changes and lead by example in tackling discrimination, then the organisations, leagues and clubs underneath them will get away with having a similar attitude. This eventually filters through down to the grassroots level and continues to be an ongoing, unsolved issue.

Rachel Brown-Finnis discussed with the panel the need for more education in order to make a change into people's attitudes toward discrimination in the game: "A lot of people working in football at higher board levels, are of a more advanced age, been in the same role or club for many years and are typically male. Discrimination seems to be rooted into clubs and appears to be a generational thing, which doesn't excuse their behaviour, but there has clearly been a lack of education over the years about the changes in football and in society." 

A new problem word in modern football seems to be "banter". A word that has almost excused this old fashioned approach and behaviour in regards to discrimination across the game. Anna Kessel, Co-Founder of Women In Football, said: "Everyone likes a laugh and a joke and I think most women who go into the football industry like that too and enjoy that environment and special team atmosphere. But it's when that banter is translating into barriers in your career, threatening your career progression and affecting your ability to do your job, that's when it's an issue."

Kessel also spoke about WIF's recent campaign which revealed that 61 reports of sexism in the football workplace were recorded in the last year. 23% of these were matchday incidents and 20% were in the actual workplace. Reports included that of the abuse directed towards Chelsea FC Doctor-Eva Carneiro. 

At least twice this season, video footage and news reports have indicated the astonishing levels of sexist abuse aimed at Carneiro. As Kessel rightly pointed out, Eva Carneiro is a fully qualified member of the Chelsea medical team and this type of abuse would be unacceptable and rare in a hospital or a surgery environment, yet in the world of football, it seems to be shrugged off as 'banter'.

Janie Frampton, owner of Sports Officials Consultancy Ltd, was also present in the audience at the panel discussion. Frampton has been an active referee for 26 years and was the former head of referee development. She explained the barriers women face when starting out in the football industry: 

"Do women come into football feeling safe, knowing that if an issue arose, they know it will be dealt with? Well, not really, not until recently. If you love football, you come into it knowing it is going to be tough, but don't let them beat you."  She later added: "The types of chants I use to hear were deemed OK, but it's not OK if you're the one on the receiving end. Banter stops when it becomes offensive. And until we get more women in the decision making roles, where other women will feel safer to report any barriers, then that will be the difficulty with trying to move on."

Alongside creating a safe and welcoming culture, football needs clearer pathways for women. Oatley spoke of her own personal difficulties getting involved in football and how there was never a clear route or anybody to guide her. Dundee United Director, Justine Mitchell, said that like most businesses, it's hard for women to get onto boards. Speaking from her own experience, she suggested that education needs to start young, to try and get girls interested in football, playing at an early age and developing a passion for the sport or a local club. Mitchell proposed that clubs could create more volunteer roles and community schemes to get women involved, so that the can learn that there are lots of different positions available in the industry. Mitchell later said: "We don't push ourselves enough and we are too content. People like ourselves here today should be acting as ambassadors, making and grabbing the opportunities, letting women know they can get to this level."
justice gets

Troy Townsend, Education and Development Manager at Kick It Out, ran six regional events in 2012 across the country, with only 9% of the participants being female. Speaking from the audience, he told the panel: "I was shocked as I have never really seen the divide before, I've always looked at the game as equal."  As a result, KIO formed a 'Raise Your Game' event, solely for women in football, being mentored by other women. The first of which was held at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium in 2014 and the second was held this year at West Ham's Upton Park. Townsend explained: "Young women trying to get into the industry find it difficult and don't know who to turn to or seek the right kind of advice to help them on the ladder. Everyone needs a helping hand and the right kind of role models."

Overall, the panel discussion highlighted some key improvements needed across the football industry. The main area certainly is to educate, not only young children coming into the game, but also the people already involved, from the highest ranks filtering down. This is not only limited to sexist abuse, but to all forms of abuse. Society is already proving that the outdated behaviour and criminal actions of people like Sepp Blatter, can only go unnoticed for so long, until justice gets served. Football is the world's biggest sport and impacts millions of people every day. With the right role models and structures in place, football has the power to make a difference in people's lives for good.

With the Canada 2015 looking to be the biggest and most record breaking Women's World Cup to date, women's football is rapidly becoming more globally recognised and participation levels are continuously increasing. The future certainly is bright!

(The full BBC 5Live podcast can be found here)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

This is our game too...

For the first time in 22 years, EA Sports have introduced women into their popular FIFA video game, FIFA 16. There will be 12 international women's teams featured in the game, including: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China PR, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden and USA.

A new edition of the game has been released annually since 1993, with the most recent edition (FIFA 15), including over 16,000 male players from across the world. By the time of the new release, there will have been six FIFA Women's World Cups. The first WWC was in 1991, with only 12 international teams entering the group stages. This figure has doubled and now sees 24 teams attending the 2015 WWC in Canada.

With the recent bribery scandal hitting FIFA this month, it is refreshing to see some positive news with the upcoming game release. USA international, Alex Morgan, is one of the many players who have worked alongside EA to assist with player animations. Morgan said: "It is such an honour for women's players and our team to be included in FIFA 16. I always wondered what it would be like to see our team in the game and it is very cool to now know that is a reality."

England and Manchester City Captain, Steph Houghton, also spoke of her delight to be involved: "The whole team are thrilled to be included in EA Sports FIFA 16. It is a really exciting year for women's football, with the forthcoming World Cup and to find out we will be included in FIFA for the first time is a special feeling."

The game will make history and will be another important step into fighting back against the stereotype and discrimination that surrounds women in sport. Houghton further added: "To be one of the first female players included in the game is something we will always be able to look back on and be proud of. Hopefully it will help raise the profile of the women's game even further."

Since the news was released last week, predictably there has been a mixture of response. Mostly positive comments have arisen, because let's face it, there are NO negatives as a result of including women into the video game. By far, the best reply on social media so far has to be Niamh Caoimhe's:

Overall, not only will this be a huge step for women's football, but it will also be a big step for the video game industry. An industry which has always significantly underrepresented female characters in mainstream games. UKIE (UK Interactive Entertainment) published survey results in 2014 indicating that 42% of UK gamers are female. In the same year, FIFA 15 was the highest selling video game. Even outside of the UK, a large percentage of gamers are still going to be female, which leads you to wonder why video game industries are not doing more to appeal to the wider market.

With that being said, EA Sports are certainly setting an example, especially with the upcoming Women's World Cup. Hopefully, by the time France 2019 WWC comes around, we will see more players and domestic teams featured in the highly popular game.