The lionesses: how female footballers are tackling equality with pride

5 March 2020

When you cast your mind back to last summer, you may have hazy memories of enjoying an aperol spritz during the heat wave, listening to Lewis Capaldi on every radio station, or your attempts to desperately avoid buying plastic bottles and single use cups.

But the summer of 2019 also marked a breakthrough in women’s football.  Record-breaking television audiences were glued to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, when the English team (nicknamed ‘the Lionesses’) captured the hearts of the nation by reaching the semi-final. Not only was this a watershed moment for women’s sports - by challenging the gender based stereotypes that football can only be played well by men - but it had a special importance for lesbian and bisexual women in particular.

There were 41 openly gay or bisexual women playing in the 2019 World Cup. Six of these players were in the Lionesses team, and five formed part of the winning US team (in addition to their coach).  It became - dare I say it - “normal” to see photos of the football stars celebrating with their wives and girlfriends: embracing over the stands after scoring a goal or touring together around host country France during the competition.

This represents a stark contrast with the men’s game. There were no openly gay or bisexual male players in the Men’s World Cup in 2018. There are no Out LGBTQ players in the English Premier League (of which there are about 500 players), which is a statistically incomprehensible.  

The 41 Out female football players are battling two interwoven struggles: that women’s football deserves an equal platform and that their sexuality is equally welcome in football.

Historically, women’s sports are rarely covered in the media or shown on television. The lack of parity has left sportswomen being forced to have a ‘real life’ job alongside their professional career.  It is hoped that greater exposure of women’s sport and an increased fan base, would lead to greater equality in sport, which is why the hype around the 2019 World Cup was so important. A YouGov poll shortly afterwards showed that a third of adults considered themselves interested in the women’s game, while 69% of those believe that women’s football deserves the same profile as the men’s game. 

We need to celebrate progress where we can and the 2019 World Cup epitomised the progress which is being made in sport.  These women are not just trail blazing the way for women, by showing that their sporting achievements are worthy of the same recognition as their male counterparts, but they are also leading the way for representation of LGBTQ people in the female and male sporting world more generally.

At Kingsley Napley, we are proud to support our LGBTQ colleagues and friends. Our rugby, football and netball teams have worn rainbow laces with pride.  To read more about our LGBTQ+ and Allies Network, see here.  To read more about the 41 Out players/role models, see here.

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