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Lionesses victory: Opportunity for healthy role models and inspiration for girls

Inspirational, positive role models, game-changing in terms of equality and raising expectations for young girls – these are just some of the accolades that have been lauded at England’s female football team since their Euro 2022 win on Sunday.

The sensational victory of the England women’s football team at Euro 2022 has inspired many young people – particularly girls – to become interested in sport.

Football and other sport have huge benefits for physical and mental health, but female athletes also present a positive and healthy role model for young people. At the same time the win has empowered girls to see that they can achieve, even in a male dominated environment.

Furthermore, the Lionesses 2-1 football win against Germany on Sunday at Euro 2022 – viewed by more than 17 million people - should send out the positive message to all of the need to close the gap when it comes to equality between men and women in both sport, but also in terms of expectations for children.

The footage of a women’s football team, not only playing but winning such an important tournament may well have been for many children their first experience of watching women’s football on television.

Indeed, Carrie Dunn, author of ‘Unsuitable for females: The Rise of the Lionesses and Women's Football in England’, feels the win could be a pivotal moment when inspiring girls to participate in football and other sports which have perhaps been previously deemed as male orientated.

Ms Dunn said: “The impact the Lionesses' win at Euro 2022 could have is immense. Just as the men's World Cup win in 1966 inspired plenty of children to watch and play football, this could do exactly the same.”

“It's not just about the prospect of being able to play professional football - although of course that's important too. The statistics that suggest almost half of women in the UK have done no vigorous exercise in the last year are concerning, and while that figure is created by many factors (including the bulk of the domestic load usually falling on women, reducing their leisure time), access to facilities to play sport should not be one of them.”

“It's great to see the FA committing to getting football as an option for girls in 75% of schools before 2024 - I hope that before too long football will be an option for all girls and women, who will no longer feel like the sport is exclusively for the men and boys,” added Ms Dunn.

Athletes and celebrities were quick to congratulate the women’s football team and express their hopes for the win to inspire young people, particularly girls, to achieve.

Former professional footballer and television sports pundit Alex Scott said: “Back in 2018 we were begging people to host in their stadiums a women’s game for this Euros, so many people said no. I hope you’re all looking at yourselves right now because you weren’t brave enough to see the vision.”

Taking to Twitter alongside a photo of him holding his two daughters, footballer Harry Kane, said: “Last night was an amazing night for the Lionesses and for English football as a whole. But beyond just the night it will inspire a generation and there’ll be so many girls who want to be one of those @Lionesses and that’s special. Incredible achievement.”

The Royal Family tweeted: “You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations.”

Harry Kane took to Twitter to congratulate the Lionesses on their "incredible achievement".

Olympian swimmer Sharron Davies said: “A massive day for woman’s sport yesterday. The @Lionesses were truly inspirational. With passionate supportive from the whole nation. Making us all proud. We must grab this moment & enable it. Now please treat woman’s sport with equal respect.”

Girlguiding CEO Angela Salt OBE said: “As a child I was told off for playing football, girls weren’t allowed. Started playing in my 30s with a bunch of men from work. Playing still, some 20yrs later. Girls can - or should be able - to do anything. That’s what @Girlguiding is about. Go Girls!”

A further Tweet from the charity said: “What an absolutely incredible tournament this has been - we feel so proud to be part of it. Representation in sport is so important, and @Lionesses have shown that girls can do anything.”

Ahead of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 tournament, Girlguiding and UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 teamed up to encourage more girls and young women to get involved in football.

It is hoped the collaboration will excite and encourage girls and young women’s interest in football and reinforce the sport’s inclusivity.

England midfielder Katie Zelem said it was fantastic to be involved in such an important partnership, “one which I have no doubt will help inspire and build girls’ confidence in the game”.

Research carried out for CHILDWISE found:

•             Almost one third of girls aged 7-17 would like more opportunities to play football

•             More than half of girls (52%) have never watched football in a stadium, compared to 33% of boys.

•             69% of girls would like to see women’s football celebrated more in the media

•             71% of all children (boys and girls) think female footballers should be paid the same as male footballers.

Chris Bryant, Tournament Director for UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, added: “This summer’s UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 promises to be the biggest women’s sporting event in European history.

“It will inspire long-term, sustainable positive change in women’s and girls’ football and we are delighted we have been able to team up with Girlguiding UK to support that change.

“Football is for all. We want to ensure whether its playing or watching, girls have the confidence to get involved and the opportunity to do so. We can’t wait to see Girlguiding members across England cheering on the teams at UEFA Women’s EURO 2022.”

Further research commissioned by Continental Tyres, an official partner of the England Lionesses, based on a survey of 1,000 girls aged 11 to 17, found that 60 per cent believe an inspirational role model is the best way to kickstart a sporting journey.

Launched ahead of the tournament, the research found that:

-              Six in 10 believe success for the Lionesses at the European tournament will inspire even more girls their age to give football a go.

-              Tennis is also popular among girls, with more than a third (38 per cent) having played it and 27 per cent of these being inspired by Emma Raducanu’s heroics on the court.

-              Nearly half planned to watch the Lionesses at the tournament.

-              46 per cent are of the view seeing more successful sportswomen in action would even inspire their own dreams to pursue sport professionally.

However, half believe that there are barriers facing girls their age when it comes to following a career playing sport. 43 per cent believe there are not enough different sports offered to play at school, while 41 per cent feel as if there isn’t information available about where girls can play.

But last October, the FA launched a campaign Let Girls Play – to support their strategic ambition to give all girls equal access to play football in school by 2024.

The campaign found that at that time, 63% of schools currently offer girls’ football in PE lessons but the FA aimed to increase that to have 75 per cent of schools providing equal access to football for girls in PE lessons by 2024.

The campaign’s website provides resources to help influence the start of change and allow more girls to feel the mental and physical benefits of exercise through playing football.

Rachel Pavlou, Women’s Development Manager at The FA, said: “We must capitalise on this historic moment for English football. We know that there's still much more to do to make women’s football truly for all and we want to change this, with equal access for girls to play in schools and clubs and identifying and developing new leaders, coaches and officials that have lived experiences of our many communities in England.”

In July, Sport England invested £2 million of National Lottery funding into grassroots girls’ football.

The Squad Girls’ Football programme will be aimed at getting more 12-14-year-olds into the game and links into work to tackle inequalities around gender activity habits. The investment followed research which found that girls are less likely than boys to complete the suggested 60 minutes of physical activity a day outlined by the Chief Medical Officer.

Following Sunday’s match sports pundit and former footballer Ian Wright summarised things passionately: “If girls are not allowed to play football in their PE, just like the boys can, what are we doing?”

“We have got to make sure they are able to play and get the opportunity to do so. 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,” he added.

Author Carrie Dunn said: “It's important for children to have all kinds of role models, and it's great for girls and boys to see women achieving at the highest sporting level, and to know that they too can pursue a dream - regardless of whether it's 'traditionally' a male-dominated field or a female-dominated field.”

“I'm sure that for girls in particular, they will be empowered to break down any barriers that are put in their way, just as the European champions have - and, of course, it's great for everyone to see that girls can accomplish whatever they put their minds to, even in a sport that for so long has been thought of as a man's game,” Ms Dunn concluded.

‘Unsuitable for females: The Rise of the Lionesses and Women's Football in England’

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