Lionesses win ‘turbo charged’ women’s game but plenty to do – Baroness Campbell

England’s historic European Championship success this summer “turbo charged” the Football Association’s ambitions for the women’s and girl’s game, but Baroness Sue Campbell insists there is plenty still to do to achieve its aims.

The governing body has published new statistics two years on from the launch of its ‘Inspiring Positive Change’ strategy, noting some sharp progress in the aftermath of the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 final victory over Germany in July – England’s first major tournament win since 1966.

Figures show a 17 per cent rise in female affiliated players across all levels of the game in the past 12 months, alongside a 30 per cent increase in registered female teams and a 15 per cent lift in youth sides comprising five to 18-year-olds.

There are also encouraging upward trends for domestic attendances at Women’s Super League level, though coaching and refereeing engagement are areas that still require attention ahead of the target date of 2024.

Baroness Campbell, director of women’s football at the FA, said: “The power of women’s football was evident on 31 July 2022, a day that will live long in the memory for us all.

“One goal in the strategy was to ‘win a major tournament’ but none of us could have imagined the impact of victory in a home tournament.

“When the Lionesses lifted the UEFA Women’s EURO trophy at Wembley Stadium in front of 87,000 fans, it was a moment of great joy, but it was also a moment of great opportunity.

“The reaction to the success and the way it transcended society has given us an unprecedented chance to change the future of the women’s game forever. It has turbo charged our strategy with demand growing right across the game.

“We have seen more girls stepping forward to play, more fans filling our stadiums and new commercial partners all wanting to be part of this great movement for change.”

But Campbell is also well aware of things that still need to improve.

The number of registered female referees sits at 1,495 – a rise of just 18 since the strategy launch in 2020, and some way short of the goal of 2,777. In elite head coaching and managerial positions, the percentage has dipped from 65 per cent to 54 per cent.

England v Germany – UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 – Final – Wembley Stadium
England were crowned Euro 2022 champions this summer (Danny Lawson/PA)

Campbell noted a growth in young female referees but accepted it was a “work in progress” and that “we haven’t got a sea of people flooding into the pathway”.

Here most pressing concerns exist at school level, though, where equality of provision in secondary level PE sits at just 41 per cent, while extra-curricular opportunity is just 45 per cent and 49 per cent at primary and secondary level respectively. All those numbers sit well below the desired targets.

Campbell called for greater political intervention to provide the building blocks that sporting organisations need to work from.

“The reality is we haven’t got strong PE in schools policy from the government,” she stressed.

“It sits at the heart of pretty much everything else we’re talking about if you don’t get girls the experience of playing the game. There’s money in the system, but not the policy that says this matters.

“PE and school sport isn’t ‘nice to do’, it’s ‘need to do’. This isn’t something that on a rainy day you can abandon and do a little bit more reading. It’s about the people standing on platforms and saying this matters. And yes, we’d like a piece of that for football please.

“Leah (Williamson) and Lotte (Wubben-Moy’s)’s letter, which was sent to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss said ‘we don’t want the legacy to just be our win at Wembley, we want our legacy to be that we’re giving young girls the opportunity to play our game. They also want to make sure that young girls are healthy well and happy. So it’s the biggest issue we’ve got. It’s the biggest issue for every sport, not just the biggest issue for football.”