From behind the scenes at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Sally Horrox - FA Consultant and CEO Y Sport - reflects on England’s tournament and the need to seize the moment to change women’s sport for good.
2.4 million viewers watched England’s agonising World Cup semi-final defeat to Japan in the early hours of Thursday morning. The match epitomised the drama of sport and the team gave it their all – it’s an attitude that has won them legions of fans and captivated an ever-growing audience for women’s football.
Today we take on Germany for the bronze medal and after that match the girls won't pull on an international jersey again until the autumn when they play Estonia in the European qualifiers. But they know their work is not done.
As they return to their clubs and to the Women’s Super League next week, the women know that they will carry the legacy of this World Cup with them. They understand how important their success is to everyone back home and what a difference it can make; and from what I have seen of Mark Sampson and his team making a difference really matters to them.
I have no doubt when they return you will see the girls promoting the game and not just with their sponsors and the media but in their local community in schools and clubs. Changing the attitude of a nation so that more girls can play is incredibly important to every one of them. Playing football 'like a girl' has taken them to the World Cup semi final but they know that football has so much more to offer.
Success on a world stage in front of millions of viewers changes attitudes and I am sure there will be more money available for women’s football in the aftermath of this World Cup. Companies that did not previously see the value in women’s sport will now want to be associated with a winning England team. What brand would not want to work with these 23 impressive, authentic and approachable women with a great story to tell.
This group of players and staff has impressed me so much. I've had the privilege of getting to know them and seeing them close up here in Canada. I’ve witnessed first hand how seriously they take their responsibilities as role models.
This week the Sports Minister came out to Edmonton to support her team and in the aftermath of the biggest game in their history, the girls spoke to her about how they could use their success to make a difference back home. 9 of the team spoke to the media in the mixed zone after the game and Mark Sampson gave an impressive and heart felt performance in his press conference. The focus was not just on today, but on what happens tomorrow. It was so positive, ambitious and refreshing.
So, what's my message? Mark Sampson and his team deserve our support. Not just here in Canada but back home after the memory of the World Cup fades. If we want more girls playing football, more active, healthy kids, equal opportunities in sport and across the board we need to commit. We need to act. The Lionesses have set the standard.
Parents, introduce your boys and girls to sport in equal measure, no matter what your experience growing up. Broadcasters and media report women's football as a sport worth watching in its own right. Fans give it a go, buy tickets and support your WSL club. Get down to Wembley for the fist ever SSE Women’s FA Cup Final on the 1stAugust. Corporates, make a smart business decision, and prove you care about the women in your business and your consumers, invest in women’s sport.
Get behind this team - they deserve it. Let’s not lose the momentum generated by this remarkable group of women and men. It’s time for us to show them what we can do too.