Sport

The review into women’s football is for everyone. Help me make it a success

A few months ago I received an unexpected call, asking me to lead the government review into women’s football. Despite it being such a great opportunity, it took me some time to say yes. Honestly, I had to think about it. I do not have experience in leading reviews of this nature, so I did my due diligence, spoke to those around me and asked some questions of people in the field.

I knew it would be a massive commitment but I came to the conclusion that it would be hypocritical for me to ask for investment in the game and then not step up to lead when asked.

I have witnessed first-hand the barriers facing girls in football. I came through from grassroots to international football and have seen every level in between. I owe it to those who have not had the same opportunities as I did to play the sport they love and to progress.

My sister Sarah introduced me to football. When she was at school the teachers came to ask whether any girls played football. She thought she was finally getting her chance, only to hear: “Great! You will be perfect to play in goal in field hockey because you can kick a ball.” It always crushes me to think that was the attitude. She had to go to America for greater opportunities to coach football but returned to the UK.

She coached a local girls’ team from under-10s to adult football. I saw her every week pick up the balls, pump them up, give out jobs, roles and responsibilities, play on the local pitches and teach her players life skills from a young age all the way up, and I thought: “I owe it to her.” I witnessed the impact she had on her team and we need to make sure everyone has the same chance. It was a constant reminder of how important sport can be within the community.

Ellen White warms up in a T-shirt reading A Girl With Goals for 2021 International Women’s Day
Ellen White warms up in a T-shirt reading A Girl With Goals for 2021 International Women’s Day. Photograph: Robbie Jay Barratt/AMA/Getty Images

This review will look into all aspects of the women’s game. There are areas within football that are thriving, some that are surviving and others that are being ignored. There’s no better time to do it. After the summer we’ve had with the Lionesses triumphing at the Euros, we’ve seen interest come into the game like never before. We cannot waste this moment.

Everyone always talks about ensuring a legacy from the Euros; we have to build the sport on strong foundations for future generations. We need to invest in the game and make sure we create the best environment for women and girls to play, watch, support and benefit from football.

The England team are not just doing great things on the pitch but also off it to highlight issues within society. With only 63% of young girls having access to football in physical education classes, I was proud to see the open letter from the Lionesses to the government advocating for change. It’s so inspiring to see many people rally behind the game and we need to utilise this influence. It has been amazing to see people in the sport have a voice and can use the platform for such positivity.

Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review of football was opened up to everybody and I want to have the same approach. This review is for everyone. I want responses from fans, spectators, non-football lovers, businesses … Every and any suggestion is welcome. The women’s game is unique and so we need unique ideas to make it a success. I will be looking to speak to experts from different fields from healthcare to entertainment.

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The most innovative companies are the most diverse of thought. This review has to think differently. My attitude is if we continue to do what we always have done nothing will change. We have to look at this with fresh eyes and innovation has to be at the forefront of that. It is really important to me that we look at all aspects of the business model and, taking lessons from the work I’ve done with businesses and from a recently completed MBA, I want to approach this strategically. That means using my experience not just on the field but off it as well, while learning from those around me.

It is imperative to create a strong base and look at the workings of the grassroots but we will be reviewing the top, too. We will review everything from commercialisation to broadcasting, sponsorships, governance infrastructure, homegrown talents and sustainability. The overriding aim is what is best for women’s football.

It is constantly on my mind and something I am really passionate about. The big thing for me is to bring people on this journey. We are all part of this team, regardless of gender. We need our male allies to be at the heart of this, too. This is a massive team; this is not about me, it is about what is right for the game. How do we create a sustainable legacy for the sport?

It is important to make this review count, for it to stand and mean something in order to make maximum impact. So if you are reading this and you want the women’s game to get better, then you are part of this movement too.

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