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Deliberate focus to get more girls involved in football, Sports Minister says

(Danny Lawson/PA)
(Danny Lawson/PA)

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston insists there is a “deliberate and conscious focus” on driving up girls’ participation in football inside and outside of school.

Euro 2022 has captured the public imagination, with hosts England set to face Germany in Sunday’s final at Wembley.

BBC pundit Ian Wright spoke passionately earlier this week about the importance of seizing on this moment to ensure girls were given equal access to football in PE as boys.

England v Austria – UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 – Group A – Old Trafford
Nigel Huddleston ahead of the Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 match at Old Trafford (Nick Potts/PA)

One of the targets of the Football Association’s four-year Inspiring Positive Change strategy is to ensure that every primary school-aged child should have the same access to the sport as boys at school and in clubs by 2024.

The FA has reported this year that only 63% of schools offer girls’ football in PE lessons, and that only 40% of schools offer girls regular extracurricular football.

At primary level, 72% of schools offer it, that drops to 44% at secondary level.

Mr Huddleston believes the FA’s strategy, and the success of Sarina Wiegman’s side, will inspire more girls and women to take up the sport.

“There has been a deliberate and conscious focus on the strategy of how we can inspire more girls and what the legacy will be of the women’s Euros,” he told the PA news agency.

“Money has been put into it to do precisely the things (Ian Wright talked about). There has been a focus and it will have an impact. I think making sure that young people, in particular girls, can get excited about a sport at school is really important.”

Mr Huddleston has attended a number of matches in the tournament, including the opening game between England and Austria at Old Trafford.

England v Sweden – UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 – Semi Final – Bramall Lane
England fans ahead of the semi-final match at Bramall Lane, Sheffield (Nick Potts/PA)

“What’s really amazing is when you look at the audience. There are lots of women and lots and lots and lots of young girls,” he said.

“It’s great to see a new generation of young girls really enthused about sport, and football in particular. Women’s sport is going from strength to strength in this country.”

The minister said discussions were continuing on who should chair the review of women’s football which was recommended in the fan-led review and that an announcement would follow soon.

Despite Mr Huddleston’s comments, some football coaches have criticised the disparity between the PE lessons for girls and boys in school.

Megan Ball, a 29-year-old girls football coach from Liverpool, said: “It’s worrying how many people think football is in the girls PE curriculum in high school.

“There’s definitely some kind of ongoing narrative that girls must do netball and gymnastics in PE.”

“If girls do enjoy football they would have to find the opportunities themselves outside of school and hope they can find a local team or know someone who can point them in the right direction,” she added.

Parents have also voiced concerns about the lack of opportunity for girls to play football in schools.

Darren Vowles, part-time coach of Portishead Town FC Girls U10s in Somerset, said: “Girls definitely don’t play as much as the boys. My daughter just finished year seven and only played football in PE in a mixed-house competition where the boys picked the teams. There were a token number of girls in each squad, and they didn’t get much playing time.

“In PE there is hardly any football. Even the school sports uniform tells you that – boys need football socks, girls don’t.”