Demand the Effing Ball
When my daughter was 9, her first signing was to a top elite football academy. On her first day, we arrived for training and admired the fantastic facilities. We walked in through the floor to ceiling glass entrance hall and made our way to the toilets, noticing en route the fantastic gym and large canteen. We repeated this routine twice a week for several months.
One evening I happened to mention to a parent that when it had been snowing the previous week, I had enjoyed a free coffee in the canteen rather than freezing pitch side as all the girls’ parents normally did. He looked at me in absolute horror. "We’re not allowed inside!" he told me. I asked him what he meant and he pointed to a portaloo cabin in the far corner of the ground. "That’s where we have to go."
This was my (and my daughter's) first real taste of gender inequality in elite sport and I was furious. You see, when my daughter signed at 9, we weren't expecting her to get the 12 free pairs of boots that the boys her age got every season from the club. We weren't expecting the travel allowance available to the boys. I wasn't even expecting free tea and coffee from the canteen. What I did expect, however, was a goddamn proper toilet and somewhere to go when it was cold.
Last week the England Women’s Cricket team were told that they were going to be getting a used pitch for their first home test in two years. This would never happen in the men’s game. When interviewed about it the captain Heather Knight said, "it is what it is."
It is, what it is.
It's because 'it is what it is', that sports women often don't complain. They are sometimes just so grateful that they've even got a pitch/kit/team/coach - because for so many years women's sport has been constantly downgraded - that they unhappily settle for second best.
Casey Stoney stepped down as Manchester United’s coach at the end of the season. Why? Because the facilities that her team had to use were not acceptable. Before makeshift portacabins were installed her players were unable to shower in between training and meals and the nearest toilets were a 10-minute walk from their training pitch. Their gym was in a tented facility and upgrades promised by the club and football director John Murtough were not forthcoming.
It is, what it is.
But you know what? It isn’t. As females, we are hardwired not to use our voices. We even accept sexism in sport as part of the culture. In Abby Wambach’s book, 'Wolfpack' she tells us all to "demand the effing ball." She was a double Olympic gold medallist, FIFA World Cup champion and a hugely successful member of the US soccer team. Yet she feels that during her time as a player she should have done more for equality. Her vision now is that we are wolves, fighting for a better tomorrow for ourselves, our pack and all the wolves that will come after us.
The fight is real. but we mustn't accept that 'it is what it is.' I never once used those portaloos. I wanted to show my daughter that we can and must stand-up to inequality. We must use our voice and demand the effing ball.
Author: Alison Hadlow
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