The profile of women’s football is growing, yet many barriers still exist which hinder participation. As identified by Sport England, attitudes towards women in sport needs to change.
Negative stereotyping rooted in expectations of gender have left young women nervous to participate. They fear judgement while taking part in physical activity. Not only for their ability, but for their appearance too.
The same report identifies a second barrier which prevents girls from participating in the beautiful game. Their socio-economic background. Less affluent people are more likely to be inactive than the upper middle classes. Issues such as cost of activities and access to facilities are two major factors in this divide
Girls United FA
There is one organisation attempting to close this gendered, classist ‘play’ gap. Girls United FA, a non-profit founded in 2016 by King’s College London alumna Romina Calatayud.
Girls United aspires to give girls across the globe equal access to sport. Calatayud’s aspirations stem from her own relationship with the game. Reflecting on what football means to her, Calatayud states: “Playing football has always been such an important part of my life. The experiences it gave me shaped who I am today.”
Now she wants to empower young girls to play football themselves.
“The organisation is born from a desire to give more girls and young women the right to play,” Calatayud says. “Until we have a world where everyone has access to, and feels welcome in sporting environments, we will struggle to uproot engrained injustices and social barriers.”
Creating Opportunities for Girls
Since opening their first club in Bacalar, Mexico, Girls United have an array of accomplishments to their name. Coaching in local schools gave girls their first opportunity to play. The skills the girls learn are intended to be transferable. Allowing them to chase their dreams off the pitch as well as on it.
Their work does not stop within the club. Girls United also go into the wider community. Establishing close relations and promoting gender equality.
This work culminated in the creation of the first female youth league in Bacalar. Within a year, Girls United also established the Copa Bacalar. The first edition of this tournament saw over 200 players showcase their abilities.
Their reach now spans continents. In 2018, Girls United launched their London club. They were soon hosting seven sessions a week, registering more than 150 players while doing so.
Transformative Action Across Continents
For their community driven work, Girls United won the Tampon Tax Grant. The fund allocates money to projects which support disadvantaged women and girls. Upon receiving their share, Girls United created “trailblazer” programmes across South London.
Their determination for equality has earnt the seal of approval from international stars. Both Caroline Weir and Vero Boquete showed their support by becoming ambassadors to the organisation.
Eleanor Fern, a volunteer who coached at both the Mexican and London clubs, believes the success of Girls United can be traced back to their community-driven approach.
“From the moment you join the Girls United family you get the sense that everyone is united by their love of football. But it goes so much deeper. A huge part of their success has come from a true desire to both learn from and provide benefit to their communities.”
The “powerful” impact across “two different and distinct communities” that Fern witnessed was made possible, in part, through fundraising. Striving to bring visibility to the game we love while helping disadvantaged girls get into the sport, Girls United began hosting football tournaments.
For the past two years, these events have fittingly been held on International Women’s Day. Within a year participation in the annual Girls United tournament had doubled. The 2019 edition raised £2,000.
How We can Help
Given the devastating impact of COVID-19, Girls United have been unable to run these popular contests. They have creatively adapted though, and have gone virtual. Calatayud is “excited” to see this different edition of the tournament, hoping it: “[brings] together all those with a shared passion for the game and the game’s power for social change.”
For £5, fans who want to help pave the way for the young stars of the future can put their football know-how to the ultimate test. In a fantasy football league. Prizes are on offer to those able to rack up the highest points tallies.
“Fantasy Football seemed like the perfect way to show up for women’s football, join forces in giving more girls the opportunity to play and maintain a safe distance,” Calatayud says.
As society attempts to return to normal, organisations like Girls United will play a vital role. Underserved children, deprived of social interaction and desperate to return to the pitches, will need both an outlet and support.
This aid is something Girls United have proven time and time again they are capable of providing. We can come together and help them accomplish their goals.
If you want to make the donation and participate in the Girls United WSL Fantasy Fundraiser, click here. Signups close March 5, 5pm.