A guest blog by Olivia Hancock, a lifelong passionate footballer, who is campaigning to end sexism in girl’s football and introduce the sport into every UK primary school.
“How would you feel if you couldn’t do something you love? As a young girl, all I wanted to do was kick a football and have fun. While at primary school, I was told that girls don’t play football it’s a boy’s sport. It was later made clear that this seemed to be the case in many schools.
When I left primary school in 2017 I was determined that, not only should primary schools give girls equal access to football, they should also have girls’ football teams. Not all girls are confident enough to play football with boys and I needed to be that powerful female voice for change.
I already knew that women were banned from playing football for 50 years (find out more here) and the struggles women still had. But I thought, if we could get equal access for girls in primary schools, it would help to knock down the barriers at an early age. This could then help the female game grow from the bottom upwards, more girls would get the opportunity to play the game in school. Boys might also begin to accept girls as equal footballers.
My campaigning has now been seen around the world. It has opened several doors for me to be that voice for girls through TV, radio and delivering speeches for UEFA, We Play Strong, as well as the Youth Sports Trust. I have also appeared in videos for FIFA, highlighting the problems girls face and how we need change in schools. I set up Girls Play Football Day on the 8th of November 2018. This is now celebrated around the world annually. A day for girls to simply take to social media, using the hashtag #GirlsPlayFootballDay, with a picture of themselves or a female footballer. There are also events in schools and at grassroots clubs to highlight the message. You can watch last year’s GPFD video here.
During Lockdown, The Football Association (the FA) made contact. I had a two hour Zoom call with senior people there. I expressed my views on everything that I felt was needed to be done for girls’ football, that all schools should give girls equal access to it. I left the Zoom call excited, I felt my views were going to help make a big difference and rightly so. The FA went away, having listened, and they worked hard to launch the Let Girls Play campaign. They wanted all schools to give girls equal access to football by 2024.
I was invited to be an FA Ambassador for the Let Girls Play campaign when it launched. I am so honoured to be an ambassador. This campaign is everything that I have been working hard to make happen as every girl should be able to access football at school.
I had so much fun doing this FA Let Girls Play video, I knew the message I gave had to be powerful. You can watch it here.
In the summer of 2022, the England Lionesses won the Women’s European Cup in front of a sold-out Wembley stadium, watched by millions on TV. I was lucky to have been invited by UEFA as their guest and can honestly say seeing England women lifting the European Cup brought tears to my eyes. Watching them win meant so much, and many people said things will now change at schools.
Sadly, I still receive messages from parents and young girls saying that their schools do not give girls access to football. They ask if I can help them. I always email the schools to highlight the importance for girl’s football and sport. Unfortunately, I don’t always get a reply. I still come up against teachers saying to me that girls play netball and boys play football! I get invited to visit schools to do a talk to inspire girls to play football. We go outside kicking a ball, having fun, and that’s what football is about to me. Having fun and being part of a team.
I cannot stress how important Physical Education (PE) is for young people at school. Not just fitness but also their mental well-being. Plus, during these tough financial times, it might be the only sport young people have the opportunity to take part in as sport outside of school can be very expensive. I feel PE in school needs to be a minimum of three hours a week.
Football for girls in schools is improving but we still have a way to go. Many more Head Teachers need convincing that girls play football too. I hope that we can all keep making sure that every young girl gets equal access to football in schools.
Thank you for reading.
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