Women MPs were given a telling off after practising their keepy-uppies in the House of Commons chamber yesterday. And while some people have been kicking off about the kicking off – “disrespectful”, “waste of tax payer’s money”, yadda yadda yadda – we’re pretty glad they did it.
Because not only have Hannah Bardell, Tracey Crouch, Alison McGovern, Lou Haigh and Steph Peacock shown politicians are (shock horror) real people, they’ve also flown the flag for women’s football that little bit higher.
For too long, “the beautiful game” has been code for “the man’s game”, with research from the Football Association showing just 2.9 million girls and women play in football teams in the UK, compared to 8.9 million men.
But the tide is turning, with women’s football slowly but surely gaining the platform it deserves. And if a cheeky kickabout in parliament keeps it on the agenda, we are 100 per cent into it.
The phrase “you can’t be what you can’t see” is bandied around a lot when it comes to female representation, but there’s a reason it’s so overused: it’s bloody true.
Studies have shown visible role models are a key factor for increasing engagement in sport. Thankfully, there are more professional women footballers than ever before in the UK, with this season’s FA Women’s Super League becoming the first fully professional women’s league in Europe, with around 200 paid players.
But we can’t all be professional footballers.
A 2013 study by the Cardiff Metropolitan University concluded that having access to a “sustainable role model is more important than finding someone elite or subsequently with celebrity status” for increasing sports engagement. In other words, we need to see “regular” women playing football just for the fun of it.
And while a bunch of MPs don’t exactly represent the every (wo)man, the photos of them proudly standing in their kits show what a wonderful hobby it can be, which is certainly a step in the right direction.
In fact, they’ve already inspired others to get active.
Crawley Old Girls (CROGS), an initiative to get self-defining “old girls” playing football, posted a video of a player practising keepy-uppies at their meeting.
Sharing photos of the politicians they later tweeted: “This is brilliant and is creating more awareness that women’s recreational football is #ForAll. If you hadn’t thought about playing football before, be inspired to try it!”
John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, said several of the MPs had apologised for the kickabout and there were “no hard feelings”.
But Hannah Bardell reportedly said she does not feel the need to apologise, adding: “Football has long been the domain of men but it’s a sport that women and girls enjoy and excel at the world over.”
You’ve got to love a rebel.