The Blog

Why the Lionesses Still Have an Obstacle to Overcome

The England team have done their part on the pitch, it's time for the governing bodies to pick up the pace of change off it.

Almost as soon as the England women's team stepped off the plane after a fantastic World Cup performance, where they shattered perceptions of the women's game, the FA decided to turn the clock back 40 years. With one simple Tweet, the FA showed that the England women's team still have another obstacle to overcome, the governing bodies of the game.

The Tweet from the FA read "Our #Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title - heroes." In one fatal swoop, the entire team was reduced from professional footballers back into those traditional gender roles. The Tweet might as well have said "They got a bronze medal... aww, their husbands must be so proud."

I'm not sure that the England team of 1990 were described as "going back to being fathers, husbands and sons" when they returned from that World Cup.

One glaring omission in the Tweet is that all of the players go back to their jobs today. Which is... you know... being professional footballers. This is even more frustrating as Jill Scott is quoted speaking about the full WSL fixtures at the weekend.

After all of the great work done by the players by advancing so far in the competition and putting the women's game into the public consciousness, it's disappointing to see the FA completely ignoring the return of the WSL. The top league of Women's football is one sign of the investment that the FA have put into women's football over the last 10 years. The investment which helped develop the side who surpassed all expectations at this World Cup.

With no other competitive football taking place over the next few weeks, the FA first thought should have been promoting this weeks WSL fixtures. Or maybe they could have spoke about how some of the players in the squad are gearing up to make history again at the beginning of next month, as, for the first time, the FA Women's Cup Final is being held at Wembley.

Defining these players by their relationship to others - as "mothers, partners and daughters" is reductive and, while I think it was unintentional, misogynistic. By defining them in this way it's saying that they've played football, but now they're going back to the people they belong to. Whether intentional or not, it is a way that the FA would not report on the men's team. A reason for this is because when it's men they are writing about they choose to define the players by what they do - not their relationship to others.

Of course, sexist reporting isn't only a problem within the FA. During the World Cup, FIFA described United States striker Alex Morgan as "A talented goalscorer with a style that is very easy on the eye and good looks to match, she is nothing short of a media phenomenon." Which shows that if you can't define a woman by her relationship to someone else, you can always reduce her to the role of "sex object."

Of course, this isn't a surprise from the place who's president not only said that female players should "wear tighter shorts" because "female players are pretty."

Thankfully both the BBC and EA have managed to modernise their coverage of the women's game where both FIFA and the FA have failed. The BBC's coverage of the World Cup was brilliant, but that is no surprise as their coverage of international women's football competitions have been top quality since Euro 2005. It was good to see the BBC including games on the main channels and Jacqui Oatley promoting the return of the WSL this weekend. It's also a welcome step for EA to include women in FIFA 2016, even though it only includes 16 teams - hopefully the number of teams included will increase in the 2017 edition.

Covering a sport professionally should not require praise - and it's unfortunate that actions from the FA and FIFA have made professional coverage stand out.

The FA later removed the Tweet, stating that: "The full story was a wider homecoming feature attempting to reflect the many personal stories within the playing squad as has been told throughout the course of the tournament."

While it is absolutely true that personal stories are of interest when you have a group of players of whom little is known about, the Tweet was a disappointing reminder of the difficulty women in the game still face today. Whether it's abuse of female physio at Chelsea, or this subtle reminder that governing bodies in the game are still dominated by men and male viewpoints, it is something which needs to be stamped out.

The England team have done their part on the pitch, it's time for the governing bodies to pick up the pace of change off it.

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