One of the biggest and most important issues in women’s elite football is the lack of diversity in ethnicity. Of course, this is different from country to country, but if we look at Europe, we can say it’s an issue that needs to be tackled.
It’s a sensitive topic. Not every league or team has the same percentage of diverse players, but it’s an issue that’s certainly more prevalent in women’s than men’s football.
Lack of diversity in senior squads
The reason for this article is that two teams in the Women’s Super League have no diversity in their squads. Both Arsenal and Everton have no black players or for that matter, any players from ethnic minorities in their first team. And, that is hugely concerning. Arsenal came out with a statement in which they said the following:
“We acknowledge our current women’s first-team squad does not reflect the diversity that exists across the club and the communities we represent. Increasing participation among young women and girls from diverse backgrounds is a key priority for us at the academy level, with specific measures in place to improve pathways and accessibility.
“Across all our teams, including our men’s and women’s academies, we’re proud of our players from diverse backgrounds who have contributed to our history, success and culture. It’s a priority for the club to continue to drive greater diversity and inclusion and create a sense of belonging for everyone connected to the club.”Embed from Getty Images
In addition to this, Jen Beattie said in a podcast that Arsenal aren’t up there where they want to be. She meant that Arsenal aren’t reaching their goals with their diversity. However, in the Arsenal academy, they are working hard so that the future will be reflective of the North London community. And, that’s exactly where a part of the criticism comes from.
It’s not only that black and ethnic minority players aren’t featured in many squads, but it’s also about the fact that not many players from diverse backgrounds are in contention for professional football. High performance and elite training aren’t as available for those groups as they are for white players. To change the lack of diversity, we need to tackle part of the problem at the source: pathways and access to facilities.
Investment in women’s football is not just a financial injection. It’s about changing a community and structures for the better. This means access to football, both grassroots and competitive for everyone. This also means the same chances, opportunities and pathways for everyone.
Racial bias in scouting
Access to elite sports facilities is the first step of professional football for girls and women. But investing in that structure doesn’t mean that the diversity in squads will automatically be better. Neither will it mean that players from every position and role in football can be players of every race and ethnic minority. One of the hardest things to overcome is the racial bias or racial profiling of players in scouting and recruitment.
So where does racial bias in scouting in England and Europe begin? With Eurocentrism.Embed from Getty Images
Eurocentrism, as an ideological perspective, tends to prioritise European culture, history, and values as central and superior. In the context of football, this Eurocentric lens often leads to the assumption that European players possess inherent qualities that make them more skilled, intelligent, or physically superior compared to players from other regions. These preconceived notions can result in stereotypes and prejudices that impact the assessment and perception of black players and players from ethnic minorities.
One manifestation of this racial bias is the perpetuation of stereotypes about the abilities of these players. Stereotypes are oversimplified generalisations that attribute certain characteristics to individuals based on their race or ethnicity. These stereotypes can create a biased framework through which black and ethnic minority players are evaluated, often leading to their abilities being underestimated or devalued.
Furthermore, racial bias can influence the perception of those players’ potential for success at higher levels of competition. Eurocentrism tends to prioritise European leagues and competitions as the pinnacle of football excellence, especially if the players are white. As a result, scouts, talent managers, and decision-makers may view players from white backgrounds as having a greater chance of success at the highest levels of the sport. This bias can result in black and ethnic minority players being overlooked or undervalued in talent identification and development processes.Embed from Getty Images
Finding a way forward
Addressing racial bias and challenging Eurocentric perspectives requires a multi-faceted approach. First, it is essential to recognise and confront the biases that exist within the football community and the broader society. This includes raising awareness of the stereotypes and prejudices associated with black and ethnic minority players. It also means actively challenging them through education and dialogue.
Diversifying scouting networks and talent identification processes is crucial. By expanding the scope beyond European leagues and competitions, scouts can discover and assess the potential of these players more fairly. This requires actively seeking out talent from diverse regions, and providing them with opportunities to showcase their abilities.