‘We’ve got a long way to reach equality’: Female uni footballers reveal sexism they face

‘Invest in women’s football. Let little girls play’

When the 2022 Women’s Euro Final smashed attendance records with 87,192 fans filling Wembley Stadium, it became clear that the popularity of the female game had changed forever.

Despite doing what the men’s team couldn’t for 56 years and winning the Euros, the England women’s team was met with sexist media coverage of their victory.

The objectification of women playing sports continues to be an issue for female football players at a professional level. But what is it like for female footballers at universities? The Tab asked female players from universities across the UK for their input.

‘Relatives said they didn’t want me to play’

When asked what are some annoying things people have said to them as a female footballer, from the players The Tab spoke to, they said people tended to make comments about the way they look. There is a clear preoccupation with the body of female footballers compared to those of men.

Mia Farndon, a second-year medic at Cambridge University says that she’s “had comments from older female relatives about them not wanting me to play when I’m older as they worried I’d become bulky or built like a man”.

A survey revealed that, like Mia, more than 70 per cent of female footballers have experienced misogynistic comments like this. Verbal abuse was the most common experience for respondents – whether online or in person. And all just for playing football.

‘There are stereotypes the women’s game is just not as good’

We asked about the stereotypes or misconceptions that just aren’t true about women who play football. Emma Baghurst, who plays centre mid for the Cambridge University team alongside Mia explains that “there’s a misconception that women’s football will always be inferior to the men’s game and so women’s football shouldn’t be taken as seriously”.

“I think there are stereotypes that the women’s game is just not as good.” agrees Mia.

“I can definitely understand that it may be slightly slower at times, but it can definitely be just as technical and physical as the men’s game. And looking at some of the football played in the Euros this summer, who wouldn’t think we are worthy of a big audience when we clearly share the same passion and understanding of the game as men?”

Perhaps Mia is referencing Alessia Russo’s insane backheel goal. There are plenty of examples of the women’s game being as skilled as the men’s. Russo, for example, has been compared to Messi for her goal-scoring. But the stigma that the women’s game is rubbish seems to remain.

Layana Safieddine who plays centre back for the Imperial College London women’s football team has also experienced the belittling of the women’s game.

The third-year bioengineering student, who also played for the Lebanese National Team, says she’s heard from others “that the level in women’s football is not high, just because it is not as fast as men’s football”.

“Female footballers work twice as hard to prove to the world that they deserve to play, and are technically amazing. They are real athletes who deserve all the praise in the world for getting to that insane level while having significantly fewer opportunities, training facilities, and support”.

Credits to @g_fenocchi on Instagram

Has anything changed in your experience since the Lionesses’ win?

Mia playing then and now

A lot of the university players mentioned the campaign that the Lionesses have started to push schools to let girls play football in PE, with some saying it will have a “major impact on the game”.

Emma, who plays football alongside her Cambridge medicine degree remembers that “during PE at school the boys and girls were split – boys played football and girls did gymnastics. I remember complaining to my (female) PE teacher and asked to join the football instead – I got shouted at in response”.

Celia Spanu who plays forward for Imperial had a similar story. “I remember a boy a couple of years younger than me telling me girls couldn’t play football. This attitude from boys/men followed through a lot of my PE lessons and clubs that I had during school”.

The second-year materials science and engineering student said “even now, playing football with only men, you get cheered every time you tackle one of them or score against them because you’re seen as being weaker and less skilled than them”.

‘Women’s football is all about love, tolerance, diversity, inclusion’

When asked what they would say to any female identifying freshers thinking of playing football at university, Mia says: “Absolutely just go for it. I have made some great friends and am part of a lovely team who is always there to support you.”

Team spirit seems to be a high point for lots of female university players.

Credits to @g_fenocchi on Instagram

“I have never felt more part of a family than I have now at Imperial Women’s football club” says Layana, the first team’s captain.

“Women’s football is all about love, tolerance, diversity, inclusion, and I think that is exactly what my club has shown. I have amazing friends on the team, train at a high level, and achieve a lot.”

Credits to @g_fenocchi on Instagram

Despite the sexist and misogynistic barriers they face, it is clear that these female footballers love the game and are not planning on stopping anytime soon.

“We have got a long way to reach equality, but we are slowly getting there. And every little girl or woman out there playing the beautiful game and speaking up is contributing to that.”

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Feature image credits (before edit) via @g_fenocchi on Instagram