I had a taste while I was back home at the political side of the soccer world. I was really honoured to be asked to be a part of a board that was in charge of rendering changes to the entire elite soccer youth system back home. I thought it was a good opportunity to give back, especially having no allegiances to any group and to have a chance to be a voice for female players.

It was my first taste of the political side of the system and it was a good experience that opened my eyes and made me think about some things.

The first was the importance of getting involved. I think too often, we sit back and complain, and it felt good to get involved and give an opinion where it mattered. I guess for someone who has sort of bucked the authority of the system because of my frustrations with it, maybe it was a sign of maturity to work within the system to try and change it for the better. It was a good lesson for me in general when hoping for positive change, to include working within the system as part of the agenda, instead of thumbing my nose at it.

Specifically with soccer, it was somewhat eye-opening in terms of the state of the system and where things stand for the girls. The first thing was that at this board meeting, there were approximately 12 people there. Of this group, that was going to be making implications for changes to the elite level of soccer for the players in a massive region encompassing at least 5000 females, there were only 2 females at the table, myself who was a last minute addition, as well as another woman, who again was a last minute add, and a guest to the proceedings.

As I looked around the table there were 3 things that troubled me in the sense that this group of approximately 12, that were in charge of implementing change. The first was the lack of female representation. The second was how I think at the table, maybe there was a quarter that had played soccer at a minimum of the university level, so lacking first hand knowledge of things that are positive and negative when thinking of elite players. Thirdly, the language that was used at the meeting troubled me.

When discussing the person that would head up this new club, as a technical director, this person was referred to as a “he” throughout the whole discussion. This, even though, a former National Team level player, who holds her National B licence was sitting next to me. I thought to myself, ok Ciara, just let it slide, its an inconsequential thing. This was until they began discussing the need for a secretary/admin type person, and this was referred to as a “she”. The final nail on the coffin, was receiving an email that was addressed to the large scale group, including 3 females, that was addressed, “Gentleman”.

I don’t like to overreact. I have no desire to be a bra-burning feminist, yet I couldn’t help but feel insulted in the language that was used, as well as the lack of female representation, and question again how women’s soccer in general and women involved in the game can grow under these kinds of circumstances. This is a microcosm of a scene that plays out across the world, and starts when one looks at the FIFA Board of Directors that has 22 men and no women, down to the CSA level that encompasses a similar male to female ratio, and further on.

It got me to thinking, would it be beneficial for the women, and girls soccer in general to be under a separate structure? Would the number of women involved in the game be higher if they were in an environment that they felt they had a place to contribute, that was outside of the domain of typing up paperwork and answering the phone? With a board full of men, do they really know and understand or care what things are like for female players in the trenches, and really is there any motivation or understanding in terms of how to push things forward into a positive direction for women’s soccer?



One thought

  1. Thanks for this wonderful post. Even though you kept all the ‘details’ anonymous, I know exactly what board and who was at the table with you. I guess this also speaks to the tight knit community of women in this male-dominated sphere (We tend to know what’s going on and with whom). I am shocked (but still not surprised) that this type of language was used. We could talk for days about answering the questions you’ve posed at the end of your post! You also give me an indirect pat on the back for continuing my Phd in Sociology of Youth Sport 🙂 There is SO much work to be done.

    On a side note, the funny thing is that one of the reasons why there aren’t women on those types of boards is that we are so busy doing a million other things! Even if I was asked to be on one of those things, where would I find the time? Between doing our graduate degree(s) (which more women than men pursue, by the way), coaching various teams, volunteering for various causes, maintaining a social life, staying healthy and fit by continuing to play soccer, and family — there is not time for anything else! Then some men in charge on those boards turn it around and say “well, we tried to get women involved but they didn’t want to ; they were too busy!’. Ironic, isn’t it.

    I should go (as I could actually endeavor to write a thesis right here), but you should read Micheal Messner’s “It’s all for the Kids” (2009). It’s a wonderfully written book on some of the issues you are talking about. He’s pretty much the authority on gender and youth sports. His book is also about soccer (and baseball) so it might hit home. Another great one about women’s hidden labour in sports is Shona Thomson’s “Mother’s Taxi” (1999). Both books that I’ve been reading for my dissertation. Another one is De Lench “Home team advantage: The critical role of mothers in youth sports”. Perhaps something to bring with you on the road or on the plane!


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