Sports for children can be a great equaliser.
Though some have voiced concerns that it fosters an overly competitive edge. Research has shown that playing sports like football has many health and social benefits for the players, benefits which will help them both on the football pitch and off.
Playing football encourages kids to learn the benefits of teamwork, and by extension has a great improvement on their social skills. Achieving success in the pitch can also help a child's confidence grow immensely.
These benefits are of course helped by the myriad physical benefits regularly playing sports and exercising has on an individual.
But for all of this positivity, sports is often segregated by gender. Of course, there are physiological differences which might account for this gender divide. There is a real and clear difference in popularity between football when it is played by men, and football when played by women. Even in major international tournaments, women's football is often ignored. Indeed even people who don't watch, play, or pay attention to football can name a few male players, but I'd doubt if the average person on the street can name very many if any of the English national women's football team.
Most everyone knows the name Wayne Rooney, fewer the name Jordan Nobbs. However, they both are on the English national teams.
This difference is demonstrated in more or less, every country where football is popular, in Mexico, for example as much as England.
Using Mexico as a case study: Poorer areas may not have the sufficient infrastructure to facilitate the training and creation of boys and girls teams.
Or boys may be encouraged to play, where girls, even girls with a dream or wish to play may be discouraged.
It could be the case then, many thousands of young girls desirous to play football, and receive the manifold benefits, cannot play. This is perhaps common and is a disservice to each and every one of them.
I'm sure we can all agree on the dangers of telling children that one gender can be involved in an activity, and another gender cannot. Especially as probably, neither the boys or girls probably understand the reasons, but only accept them. Such a gender divide so early can only enforce and maintain imposed gender roles.
I recently came across an NGO which aims to help tackle this problem. Girls United FA. Which operates in Mexico, using volunteer coaches and administrators from the UK operates by privately establishing football academies for girls in these areas, thus allowing girls to play the game and benefit in ways that may have otherwise been unavailable to them or harder for them to access. It is a means to promote a sense of real gender equality. The need for such an organisation is epitomised by its recent successes. However, this organisation and those like it survive only on the generosity of volunteers and donations.
It is worth noting that in Mexico there has only been a professional women's football tournament since December last year with the creation of Liga MX Femenil. Meaning, until extremely recently, any girls who dreamed of playing their national sport on a professional level, had few opportunities and fewer chances to do so, where boys have always had plenty of opportunities to train in the Sport, to develop in it, and represent their region or city professionally.
This isn't the only non-profit organisation encouraging young girls to involve themselves in sports. Here in the UK there is the larger group Kick It Out which also aims to tackle discrimination in football. However, unlike Girls United it aims to create change via campaigning, not the direct creation of football academies, which I feel may have a more grassroots, and immediate effect.
It is perhaps telling of the state of gender inequality in sports, that private organisations need to be created to simply give young girls a chance of playing the sport. A sport key to the cultures of both the UK and Mexico.