Ian’s right, right, right... the FA must ensure Euro 2022 is a catalyst for change

·4-min read
Ian’s right, right, right... the FA must ensure Euro 2022 is a catalyst for change

In the tumult following England’s 4-0 win over Sweden, Ian Wright put the significance of the result into a wider context.

As a pundit, Wright has a knack for saying the right thing, of capturing the mood, and amid the celebrations he had the presence of mind to urge the FA, and the country, to use the occasion as a catalyst for change.

“Whatever happens in the final now, if girls are not allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, after this tournament, then what are we doing?” said Wright.

In Pictures | Women’s Euro 2022 (Semi-Final): England vs Sweden - Lionesses celebrate victory

England’s Ellen White, Hannah Hampton celebrate and teammates celebrate (REUTERS)
England’s Ellen White, Hannah Hampton celebrate and teammates celebrate (REUTERS)
Ella Toone and Rachel Daly of England celebrate (The FA via Getty Images)
Ella Toone and Rachel Daly of England celebrate (The FA via Getty Images)
England’s Beth Mead, left, celebrates after scoring her side’s first goal (AP)
England’s Beth Mead, left, celebrates after scoring her side’s first goal (AP)
England’s midfielder Fran Kirby celebrates after scoring her team fourth goal (AFP via Getty Images)
England’s midfielder Fran Kirby celebrates after scoring her team fourth goal (AFP via Getty Images)
Lucy Bronze of England celebrates scoring their side’s second goal (Getty Images)
Lucy Bronze of England celebrates scoring their side’s second goal (Getty Images)
Alessia Russo of England scores  a sublime back heel third goal whilst under pressure from Caroline Seger and Jonna Andersson of Sweden (Getty Images)
Alessia Russo of England scores a sublime back heel third goal whilst under pressure from Caroline Seger and Jonna Andersson of Sweden (Getty Images)
Alessia Russo of England celebrates scoring their side’s third goal (Getty Images)
Alessia Russo of England celebrates scoring their side’s third goal (Getty Images)
England’s coach Sarina Wiegman celebrates with England’s midfielder Jill Scott (AFP via Getty Images)
England’s coach Sarina Wiegman celebrates with England’s midfielder Jill Scott (AFP via Getty Images)
England players celebrate in the dressing room after their sides victory (The FA via Getty Images)
England players celebrate in the dressing room after their sides victory (The FA via Getty Images)
England’s Leah Williamson, left, and Ellen White celebrate (AP)
England’s Leah Williamson, left, and Ellen White celebrate (AP)
The England team form a huddle following victory (The FA via Getty Images)
The England team form a huddle following victory (The FA via Getty Images)

“We have got to make sure they are able to play and get the opportunity to do so. Because it’s going to inspire a lot of people. If there’s no legacy to this — like with the Olympics — then what are we doing, as this is as proud as I’ve ever felt of any England side.”

The issue of the European Championship’s legacy feels particularly poignant in a week which marks a decade since the 2012 Olympics. The legacy of the London Games is mixed, and the big success stories are of infrastructure rather than mass participation.

These Euros will not leave behind any gleaming new facilities, so as Wright acknowledged the only measure of whether a tangible legacy has been left in years to come will be the number of women and girls involved in the national sport.

A desire to “turbo-charge” the growth of women’s football was a leading motivation for the FA in hosting the finals, and among the six goals of the governing body’s four-year plan for growing the sport are winning a major tournament and ensuring every primary school-age girl has the same access to football as boys during and after school by 2024.

If winning a tournament is now within touching distance, the latter aim remains depressingly distant. Seventy three per cent of primary schools currently offer girls equal access to football in class but less than half — just 43 per cent — offer the same opportunities after school as boys.

The numbers are significantly lower for secondary schools and, all told, just 30 per cent of girls aged five to 18 regularly play football in this country, compared to 67 per cent of boys. Of the 13.5 million people who frequently play the game in England, only 3.4m are women.

There have been steps forward, with the number of women playing football in this country doubling from 2017 to today.

By 2024 the FA want 75 per cent of all schools to offer girls equal access to football through class and 75 per cent of all grassroots clubs to provide at least one girls’ team.

As it stands, though, more than half of English girls are being failed by a lack of routes into the game outside school hours.

More powerful than the numbers are the Lionesses’ own stories. A majority of Sarina Wiegman’s squad have spoken about having to play in boys’ teams growing up, often as the only girl. Nikita Parris, for example, set up her own team after being banned from playing with boys.

The Lionesses are attuned to their roles as trailblazers and the evidence of this summer suggests change is coming.

The number of women playing football in this country has doubles in six years. (The FA via Getty Images)
The number of women playing football in this country has doubles in six years. (The FA via Getty Images)

The tournament has already smashed the total attendance record for a women’s Euros, and TV audiences have also been encouraging, with a peak of more than nine million watching the semi-final and Sunday’s showpiece expected to break the UK viewing record for a women’s football match.

As ever with the women’s game, what happens when the tournament is over, the buzz has died down and the all-encompassing men’s game returns is perhaps just as important as Sunday’s result against Germany.

England winning a first European Championship could be a watershed moment for the game but maintaining interest in the sport at levels between major tournaments remains a challenge and perhaps key to the Euros’ legacy.

As Chelsea boss Emma Hayes has said: “I do believe in watershed moments. The next level for us is ensuring it’s not just every two to four years [at tournaments].

“But if England were to win the Euros, it could be a monumental moment in the history of the women’s game.”

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