Defeat for the Lionesses but a win for Women in Sport

The hope and belief in the England’s women football team over the past few weeks culminated in the whole nation spurring on England to beat Japan and make it to the World Cup Final. Fate meant it wasn’t to be, but aside from the result it is important to appreciate just how much these women have changed the mind-set and attitude of the nation, particularly across the younger generation.

However, in making that point, it raises the question as to why the sex of those playing sport is still an issue for some? Just a few years ago, most football fans arguably would not have followed, supported or even known about the England women’s football team and yet now they have the backing of the nation and importantly our media.

The coverage in the media, as well as the social influence throughout England during the Women’s World Cup campaign has been exactly how it should have been for years.  With the men’s Under 21’s team failing to go through the group stage of this year’s Euro’s, and the men’s team without a major tournament, rightly the limelight then turned on the women to do what an England football team hasn’t done since 1990 when the men’s senior team lost on penalties to Germany in the World Cup Semi-Final.

It proves just how influential professional sportswomen are to the next generation of athletes, footballers, jockeys and more.  With Britain’s most successful Olympian, Victoria Pendleton, now training to become an amateur jockey in what has been traditionally considered a male dominated sport, Downhill Mountain Bike Rider Rachel Atherton regularly beating men to become a World Champion in her sport, and now the England’s women team putting the men’s team to shame, it shows the importance of female role models in showing the younger generation that both men and women can play sport and succeed; no matter their gender.

England Women’s Head Coach Mark Sampson spoke passionately after their loss last night and summed up the impact that his team will have on girls all over the country who now have female role models they can look up to in the world of football.

“We’ve felt the huge support from home; it’s really helped us, and pushed us too.  It’s helped us keep inspiring a new generation of girls to say “I don’t want to be Steven Gerrard, mum, I want to be Laura Bassett” and we’ve achieved that, you watch before school tomorrow they’ll be thousands or millions of young girls who will ask their mum and dad “get me my first football, get me a shirt with 6 Bassett or whoever it might be, and let me have a go mum!”, and that’s a special achievement for this group of players and in 20 years they’ll be remembered for inspiring a new generation to play football.”

Looking at the bigger picture, the inspiration and passion shown by the England team, has the power to inspire the next generation of women who sometimes are not sure where they fit in, especially in traditionally male dominated sports. The Lionesses have shown that there is a place for them and that they can succeed and be respected for pursuing their careers.

What more can the nation do to support and encourage women in sport? The media and social sphere has a big influence on people’s attitudes towards women’s sport and it is essential that people do not forget the Women’s World Cup and the achievement of the England team once the dust has settled. These players will go back to their clubs to participate in the Women’s Super League, and will continue to represent England Football in numerous matches and tournaments over the coming months and years – we need to get out and support these players, in stadiums, on TV and in the media even when the Premier League starts again and the men’s team have big fixtures.

Another major area of support for women in sport needs to come from the broadcasters. The BBC’s coverage of the Women’s World Cup was excellent, and it would be great to see them continuing in this vein by showing live coverage of other female sports. Sky have just announced that they will be covering the Netball World Cup taking place this summer, another opportunity for the nation to get behind our female sports stars. And with Rio 2016 next year and numerous GB women competing for a medal, let’s hope the media continue to support the growth of female sport and in turn give millions of people the chance to see just how talented the nations female sports stars are.

And of course the main area that needs to better play its part in all this is the education system, to ensure girls and women are encouraged to follow the sports they love from a young age and ensure the next generation of  women’s footballers, rugby players, triathletes, cricketers, jockeys, etc, are encouraged to become the next generation of Victoria Pendleton’s, Laura Bassett’s, Rachel Atherton’s and Claire Taylor’s.

There’s no doubt that social media will see the team come under criticism for their exit and Laura Bassett will no doubt lay some blame on herself for the loss. But isn’t that all part and parcel of becoming a professional sportsman or woman? Maybe the next debate is whether the criticism of sportspeople, both men and women, should eventually be the same – should the English media have been more critical of England’s loss last night? Would the men’s team have been slated for such a performance? Maybe, maybe not. The men’s team will have to reach a world cup semi-final before we can debate that fully.

The England’s Women football team should certainly be extremely proud of their efforts, hold their heads high and continue to support and encourage the growth of women in sport to ensure for the next 20 odd years, the area continues to grow as strongly as it has done in the last decade.

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