Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

June 27, 2015 — Bending away from a gender normative

Tonight’s 2-1 win by England over Canada in the 2015 Women’s World Cup isn’t just an upset over the host nation.

In truth, it’s much more than that.

The 23 young women under the tutelage of Mark Sampson have had to fight numerous obstacles in order to get where they have wanted to be, and that’s one step closer to playing for a World Cup.

Many of these obstacles are cultural, some are economic and structural. But they boil down to this: before 1971, women simply didn’t kick a soccer ball in the United Kingdom. That was because of a directive in 1921 by The Football Association banning women from playing on their grounds. Instead, women who wanted to play football would have to play organized games on rugby grounds or public parks, or anywhere there was a spare acre to play.

A gender normative came into being in the United Kingdom: field hockey was for girls, and soccer was for boys. To an extent, much of that attitude remains. There are more than a million female hockey players registered with England Hockey. At last count, the number of female soccer players registered with the FA is fewer than 100,000.

And that also goes to differing attitudes that the governing bodies have towards their athletes when it comes to world-level competitions. No matter how well England does in this Women’s World Cup, none of these soccer players will not be in next year’s Rio Olympics. 

That’s because the football associations of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland failed to reach an accord to send a unified Great Britain team to the Olympic soccer tournament. 

No such failure occurred in women’s field hockey; Team GB qualified for the Olympics through its recent performance in the World League semifinals.

Tonight’s result may result in an enormous sea change in a country with one of the world’s most-followed domestic men’s professional soccer leagues.

It may result in British fans, disillusioned by the way the men’s soccer team has underachieved since the triumph of the 1966 World Cup, finding hope and nationalistic glory in their women’s performance.

And some small girl watching the BBC this evening may score a World Cup winner for England one day.

That’s the power of this achievement.


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