9 Jul 2015

Lionising England’s female football heroes

They didn’t get a victory parade, but they have at least been treated to breakfast with the Duke of Cambridge and an audience with the prime minister. And quite right too. Because the England’s women football squad have put in the most successful World Cup performance since 1966.

Today I caught up with them – in between their appointments with the prince and prime minister – during a kick-about with some very excited schoolgirls.

They’re clearly brilliant role models for young girls, many of whom get put off sport by ingrained sexism, and worries about body-image.

It’s 10 years since Sepp Blatter called for women in football to wear “tighter shorts” but the Football Association’s lamentable tweet about the women could now “go back to being mothers, partners and daughters” – as if full-time professional football is a job for the boys – suggests that old habits die hard.

Unequal sponsorship deals mean that women footie stars are paid vastly less than their male counterparts. (America’s women’s team got $2m for winning – a quarter of what the men netted for losing).

So clearly there is much work to be done to build on the England women’s success, and root out persistent inequality in the sport.

This has got to start young.

Many girls drop out of sport when they become body-conscious teenagers, so Sport England’s “This Girl Can” campaign, aimed at encouraging girls to get active, whatever their shape or size, is to be applauded.

But these things are never straightforward.

I must admit I was slightly surprised to see Claire Rafferty sporting a pair of false eyelashes on the pitch today. She’s not only a talented player, but also brainy too, holding down a job as an analyst at Deutsche Bank to help fund her sporting career.

So why the need to glam up? She told me she likes to look “feminine” as well as athletic. The feminist in me balked at that. But I guess the fact that I’m about to go into the studio in a pair of skyscraper heels means I’ve got double-standards too.

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