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Girls & Women

Britain's Biggest Stars Reveal 'Lionesses' World Cup Squad Will Put Women's Sport on Equal Footing

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Sport reflects society. It can often shows us where we need to work to make the world a more equal, tolerant, inclusive place. The historic repression of women’s football violates Global Goal 5 for absolute gender equality — and with a World Cup around the corner, it’s time we gave it the attention it deserves. Take action here to fight gender inequality around the world.

The final week of the Premier League season has arrived. But as champions are crowned and historic comebacks arise from nothing, it’s important to remember that the theatre doesn’t pause just because men do.

The Women's World Cup in June and July means another glorious summer of sport — and on Wednesday we found out in spectacular fashion which athletes we will be cheering on in France.

Last year, football almost came home. In 2019, England gets another shot.

The highly anticipated England squad announcement was led by an assembly of star-studded British celebrities, sportspeople, and activists that included Prince William revealing Steph Houghton as captain and Emma Watson introducing Demi Stokes.

In an unconventional but wildly popular move, every individual player was revealed as a squad member for the first time by a different celebrity through a series of videos on Twitter.

Announcements for the 23-woman team, known as the Lionesses, came from some of the biggest names in sport and pop culture, including former players David Beckham, Rachel Yankey, Ian Wright, and Alan Shearer; BBC Radio 1 DJs Greg James, Clara Amfo, and Monki; pop stars Anne Marie and Olly Murs; England men’s World Cup stars Raheem Sterling and Jordan Pickford; and many more.

And it’s all about getting excitement around the women’s game on equal footing.

“We wanted each player to have a special moment when their name was revealed, knowing they are going to a World Cup, as I never did as a player,” said manager Phil Neville. "It is the biggest thing in their lives and something they’ve dreamed about.

“We have to make these players visible, we want everybody around the world to buy in to what will be the biggest Women’s World Cup of all time,” he added.

It feels like everybody is talking about women’s football today. But for decades, there was a systematic attempt to repress it — and remove it from sport altogether.

During the First World War, men who previously played the game had been sent away to fight — and the women’s game grew vastly in popularity, with thousands unable to get into packed stadiums around the country. And when the war ended, more people still attended women’s matches than men’s.

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The Football Association (FA) didn’t like that. Women’s football was banned by the FA for 50 years in 1921. It’s widely understood that the ban — spun as protecting women against the “physical risk” of football — was brought in specifically to convert fans to male teams. Almost a century after the women’s game was decimated, supporters are finally coming back.

But despite the 2015 Women’s World Cup final between the US and Japan being the most-watched football match in American history, there’s still a gargantuan disparity between the male and female game. 

Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar earns as much as the highest earning 1,693 women players combined — while a 2017 FIFPro study found that almost half of female footballers around the world continue to study alongside their career, while nearly a third have another job, too.

The United States won the last Women's World Cup, while England narrowly missed out on the final after a last minute own goal against Japan in the semis. However, the Lionesses did then beat Germany for the first time ever in the third-place play-off, earning them the highest World Cup finish of any senior England side since the men’s team won the trophy back in 1966.

Their heroic return was, however, marred by a post from the official England Twitter account, run by the FA, that was described by a Washington Post reporter as an "appalling, sexist tweet.”

The swiftly deleted post read: “Our #Lionesses go back to being mothers, partners, and daughters today, but they have taken on another title: heroes.”

It wasn’t the FA’s first or last controversy within the women’s game. Last October, the organisation apologised after tweeting a photo of the England side lining up to face Australia with the caption “scrub up well, don’t they?” 

And while visibility of women’s football increases, so does prejudice against it: in May 2018, leading gender equality in sport group Women in Football found that over the 2017/18 season there was a 400% rise in alleged discrimination and sexism.

“What is clear is that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said a spokeswoman from the group. “For every offensive tweet or comment posted and reported to us, there are dozens that aren’t. And we know from our 2016 research, that women who experience sexism at work rarely report it — just one in 10 according to our landmark industry survey.”

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The men’s team were knocked out by Croatia in last year’s World Cup semi-final, finishing fourth after a defeat to Belgium in the playoff. Suffice to say, fatherhood beckoned for some on their return home, albeit quietly and privately.

“So why have one World Cup — when you can have two?” declares the promo video for the squad announcement. “Sure, we’ve been here before. But not like this, this is something else.” 

Check out the full squad list below.