The whiteness of the England women’s team prevents too many girls from dreaming | England women’s football team

Football is about creating dreams, but even the most ambitious and imaginative young players need some initial inspiration.

Before they can start envisioning being part of a trophy-winning team or start dreaming of scoring goals galore, budding Lionesses need role models they can relate to.

This is one of the many reasons why diversity is so important and why it is legitimate to question the whiteness of the England squad. This should not be taken as a criticism of a very good team or a very good manager in Sarina Wiegman, but as an acknowledgment of the importance of visibility.

Young girls who don’t see anyone who looks like them are running out of heroines to emulate – and that matters.

Like England, France have reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2022 but unlike the Lionesses, their 23-woman squad has 15 black or brown players. On the other hand, the Lionesses have only three black players: Jess Carter, Nikita Parris and Demi Stokes, the only Carter having, so far, had playing time.

There is clearly a problem – but it has nothing to do with Wiegman’s squad sheets for Euro 2022 and everything to do with the pathways leading players to the England squad.

The English Girl Scouting system lacks sufficient bodies on the ground, the necessary resources and the imagination to look in the right places. Why aren’t chief scouts asking organizations like the Football Beyond Borders charity to help them identify talented young players from unconventional backgrounds?

Demography also comes into play. Some areas – the northeast for example – are much whiter than others. Even so, scouts don’t seem to identify promising young black players in much more diverse regions. Aren’t they looking in the right places? Does laziness or groupthink cause them to search in similar places? Or is it also partly about the creation of the WSL in 2010?

When I started playing, when women’s football was still amateur, the women’s teams of London, Arsenal, Chelsea, Charlton and Fulham were quite diverse.

Hope Powell, who is preparing England for Euro 2005 here, is the only non-white manager Anita Asante has worked with. Photography: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Perhaps strangely, that has changed since 2010. Most England internationals now represent professional and largely white WSL teams. It was something that really hit me when I joined newly promoted Aston Villa in 2020 and realized that with players like me, Jamaicans Shania Hayles and Elisha N’Dow, we were the most diverse team in the WSL.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that WSL teams have moved mainly to new leafy suburban or semi-rural training facilities away from cities in places like Surrey, Hertfordshire and Cheshire.

This is the norm for many male Premier League clubs from their parents who, perhaps rightly, believe that female teams should train in the same sort of places. What they may not have thought of is that there is a lot less money in women’s football and that many young black girls, who often live in inner cities, may have struggling to reach the training grounds outside the city.

While a top men’s club might arrange transport for a men’s academy player from school to training and then back home, that option certainly won’t be there for the girl whose parents don’t. are unable to transport it back and forth. Young Premier League players are sometimes put up with host families who can create the right home environment to maximize their talent but, again, that doesn’t happen to their WSL counterparts.

While no group is homogenous and it is wrong to buy into the conventional wisdom that all young black players are disadvantaged and live in inner cities – clearly a radical generalization – the suburbanization of football centers training obviously limited opportunities for black and white girls to work-class funds. As an added complication, some schools have been very slow to introduce football as an option for girls.

Another problem is the lack of black and brown faces among the coaches. I’ve played for quite a few clubs over the years but, apart from my former England manager Hope Powell, I’ve never worked with a non-white manager. This must change.

Anita Asante celebrates with Shania Hayles after scoring for Aston Villa at Brighton in November 2020.
Anita Asante celebrates with Shania Hayles after scoring for Aston Villa at Brighton in November 2020. Photo: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Some young black players were probably put off by the events of 2017 when the FA finally apologized to Eni Aluko after his claims that former England manager Mark Sampson had made racist comments to him. When they saw that Eni wasn’t believed at first, they might have thought, “Why risk putting this on me?”

Then there is the lack of understanding of cultural barriers in some black, Asian and minority communities where there are often a lot of different pressures for girls to conform to gender norms. For example, when Sport England began encouraging members of the South East Asian community to take up cycling, it did not initially realize that in that culture cycling was synonymous with the poor and therefore , despised. Once officials explained why cycling in England is viewed very differently, a positive response followed.

In football too, coaches and administrators can sometimes be a bit lazy to understand cultural differences that would allow them to challenge perceptions and, at times, myths.

But visibility – or lack thereof – remains the biggest problem. I was doing expertise for the BBC last week when presenter Eilidh Barbour sparked a discussion about the lack of diversity in Lionesses.

Twitter’s backlash – with many users mistakenly assuming we were criticizing Wiegman’s England – suggested that too many people are denying our diversity problem.

They don’t realize that everyone should be able to dream.

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