For International Women’s Day on Monday, the Observer and Common Goal, which helps players invest 1% of their income back into the game, organised a round table comprising four professional female players with a combined 178 caps. They came together to discuss why female footballers give back and what needs to change as the game continues to grow.
Despite having a much smaller slice of the football pie, half the football players involved in Common Goal are women, why is that?
Caroline Weir Manchester City and Scotland: For me, it’s about visibility. I would have loved to have seen a group of women play football when I was younger. It’s just about that and also showing girls how powerful a group of women can be. That it makes the voice so much louder if we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Pauline Bremer Wolfsburg and Germany I agree. We’re also really lucky in the professional leagues now, with all the possibilities we have. So that’s the reason why I chose, or we chose, to give back. We know that in other countries or in other parts of the world it’s not the same and if we chip all together, we can make stuff happen.
Isabella Echeverri Sevilla and Colombia: Football is so powerful, it can get to every single spot in the world. As women, and all the players that are in Common Goal, we know how powerful football is and how that small 1% can change the lives of so many different kids or organisations.
Sofie Junge Pedersen Juventus and Denmark: I also hope that this movement makes it become the norm that you join Common Goal, and you give something back when you’re a professional player. There’s so much money in the football industry and I think we must give back 1%, that is not a lot really.
Common Goal is not the only way women athletes are elevating each other, their voices and their sports. Across the world women are moving into leadership positions in sports and other industries. In the US the actor Natalie Portman and World Cup winner Abby Wambach are two of those involved in the new club Angel City and the tennis star Naomi Osaka is backing North Carolina Courage.
CW: Being part of a group of women, we’re used to being in teams as players, but being part of this kind of team and seeing high-profile women draw attention to the women’s game is great. We’re in fortunate positions now and hopefully the next generation will be even better off and able to do the same.
IE: It’s a very positive thing. I’m just proud of being part of that generation of women that are trying to change the status quo, trying to lift each other up, especially women in sports.
Gender equality is not just a women’s issue, what changes would you like to see in different areas of the football industry to accelerate change?
SP: So many big men’s team are investing in women’s football now but I also understand that they have to run as a business. But bigger associations, Uefa and Fifa, definitely need to invest more in women’s football, the difference between the amount they give to women’s football and men’s football is way too big. Why shouldn’t they invest the same in men’s and women’s football? That could really make a big difference.
IE: The investment has to be there for us to just bring the game up and to level conditions and the opportunities that we as women in sports have. We need more women in powerful positions, women in places that can make decisions. But we also need the support right now from the people that are in those positions and that can change the reality of the game. Those people right now are mostly men that have been in the in the job for a while. So maybe they’re not as open to women’s football.
PB: To make it work you need to increase the attention on the woman’s game as well and that starts with media coverage. When people can see women’s football and it’s attractive they will come into the stadiums and that’s when it’s worthwhile for clubs to invest in women’s football.
CW: I totally agree with what’s been said. I’d also like to see more women just working in football. We need more women and girls playing, but there’s also all the staff that go with a team, a lot of those roles are male. You look at managers as well, male managers manage women’s teams but it’s not the same the other way around. That starts from a younger age, girls being interested in football, not necessarily playing or wanting to be a professional player, but just being involved, wanting to work in football in some way.
What would your IWD message to young girls and young women who want to become football players be?
CW: Growing up there was lack of role models and opportunities to play in Scotland, I played with boys. But I was lucky that when I reached 18-19 the game was going professional in England, so I could move down there. As much as a lot of teams are professional and facilities have improved there’s still a lot where that’s still quite far behind. The challenge now is for women just to feel comfortable enough to actually challenge things and to speak out. As much as the game has grown so much in the last five to 10 years, the challenge will be to continue to push the boundaries. We’re grateful for the way the game’s gone but we need to continue to push for better things. If you’ve got a dream to be a professional footballer and you’re a wee girl, there’s absolutely no reason why that can’t happen now, fortunately.
PB: It’s important to follow your dream and know that nothing is now impossible. Women played football when it wasn’t allowed, when it was banned, and they achieved things, so the possibilities to achieve in the game now are huge.
IE: I don’t like to compare women’s football to men’s in Colombia because it’s a completely different sport. They have every single thing and today we are still fighting for a professional league that plays for longer than two months. The facilities are not the same, even in my national team. It’s a constant fight. It’s a constant reminder that you’re still a woman and you’re worth less, so to speak, than the men’s players. Latin American culture is very, very masculine and soccer more so. It’s been tough, but for me to be able to speak up and be part of the generation that can change things is something to be proud of. I would tell them that they are strong, they’re stronger than they know, they’re more powerful than they know. If they have a dream, they have to work hard to achieve it. Nothing is impossible if you set your mind and your heart to it. Being a girl or a woman you are not less, you just have to work a little bit harder.
SP: But also know that if you don’t get professional, you can still get something out of playing football. There’s so many things to achieve from being part of a football team. Just have fun.