In his rousing speech after England won their Euro 2022 semi-final against Sweden, Ian Wright called for girls to be given better access to football across the country.
He cited the London 2012 Olympics as an example not to follow, with the sporting world failing to capitalise on the increased interest in women’s football during the Games.
“If girls are not allowed to play football just like the boys can after this tournament, then what are we doing,” Wright said passionately.
“We’ve got to make sure that they are able to play, because it’s going to inspire a lot of people. But if there’s no legacy to this, like what we saw with the Olympics, then what are we doing?”
Legacy is indeed the key word here, and it is one that is often bandied about after sporting events. The promises to create opportunities for the next generation of sports stars have often been empty, but not for the Lionesses, who have shown they truly understand the meaning of leaving a legacy.
When Leah Williamson lifted the Euro 2022 trophy in front of nearly 90,000 people at Wembley, every England player knew they had been given an unprecedented opportunity to use their platform for reform.
Every player in the squad was on that pitch in spite of the limited opportunities afforded to them as they grew up, and they knew that the situation was still the same for the current generation of schoolgirls.
As it stands, only 67 percent of all schools in the UK – and just 41 percent of secondary schools – offer football equally to girls in PE lessons. Only 46 percent of schools provide the same extracurricular opportunities as boys.
The Lionesses knew they could change this for future generations, giving every girl across the country the chance to play football.
This would have surely been part of the conversation between Williamson and her Arsenal teammate Lotte Wubben-Moy on the bus home from the Trafalgar Square celebrations the next day.
That conversation sparked an open letter from the Lionesses, signed by all 23 members of the Euro 2022 winning squad, which was then sent to the UK Government.
It urged former prime ministerial contenders Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to ensure that all girls had access to play football at school.
Today, on International Women’s Day, the campaign paid off. The UK Government pledged to provide equal access to all sports in PE for boys and girls, a minimum of two hours of PE a week, and a multi million‑pound investment in school sports and extracurricular activities.
The investment includes more than £600 million to spend on improving PE and sports in primary schools over the next two years, and up to another £57m to open more school sport facilities outside school hours, particularly for girls, disadvantaged pupils, and those with special educational needs.
It is a massive moment for women’s sport in the UK, and shows how powerful female athletes can be when given the chance to use their voice.
The Lionesses should also be lauded for capitalising on the platform they were given – it would have been understandable if they had simply decided to celebrate their achievement before heading back to their domestic clubs, content with the idea of having inspired millions of people.
But they didn’t. They chose to go one step further and push for change, and they are certainly not going to stop now.
For while the Lionesses have gone way beyond their job description to get the Government to pledge equal access to school sport for girls, it’s certain they will continue to hold the powers that be to account and ensure that the politicians stick to their promises.
For that is the next step. The Lionesses understood the true meaning of legacy, so it’s now down to the Government to show that it does too, and give schools and teachers the right support and resources to implement change.
“By making football more accessible to millions of girls across the nation, we have opened a crucial door for the growth of women’s football and women’s sport as a whole,” Wubben-Moy reflected today.
“I am proud to be part of something that will live on for generations to come. This is just the beginning.”