After the historic second place of the Dutch Oranjeleeuwinnen on the Women’s Football World Cup, Wieke reflects on the importance of diversity on the football field.
A family birthday party, a few summers ago, my father in conversation with my cousin. ‘It’s not going so well for Dutch football, is it?’, my dad said, jokingly, referring to the fact that the Dutch men’s team did not manage to qualify for the upcoming World Championships. The young boy looks at him with big eyes, with a clear ‘What do you mean?’ in his gaze. He had just spent the past summer cheering for the Dutch women’s national team as they became European champions. To him, Dutch football was going great. He wasn’t burdened with the knowledge that the last time the Dutch men’s team won the European Championship was in 1988. He probably also didn’t know that only in 1979, girls could officially become a member of the Dutch National Football Association. For him, it was just normal that he was also cheering at the female players; and that they were good at their game.
This example shows the importance of role models. Role models have the capacity to do two things at once: making people think both ‘yes, this is also for me’ and ‘yes, this is also for others’. With more diversity in who we see run, kick, struggle and succeed, it becomes clear that football is also for the girl-next-door and that she has every right of dreaming to make it to the national team.
The more diversity and different role models we see, the more inclusive our sports fields could become. This might even have an impact beyond exercise and entertainment. For example, a recent study in the UK found that the vast majority of people agree that being English is not about ethnicity.
In an interview with the director of research institute British Future, this was linked to the diversity in the English presence on sport fields. We have also seen the creativity in chants of Liverpool fans this season as they cheered for their star player Mohammed Salah: ‘If he scores another few / then I’ll be Muslim too’. That’s the power of sports – in getting people together, connect and making most of us go just a little bit crazy. Dutch fans, for example, are known for jumping around and watching games in full orange gear. Meanwhile, here in the UK, England’s semi-final against the USA was the most watched programme on British television for the entire year. It is a clear demonstration of #ThisGirlCan – a British online campaign to encourage women and girls to get active; in any shape or form, as long as it is sweaty.
One also has to give cheers to Best Player and Top Scorer of the Women’s World Cup Megan Rapinoe, who’s been rocking the tournament and her pink hair while being out, proud and outspoken, using her platform to speak up about all sorts of issues relevant to sports and equality. Of course, on a fangirl level I would have preferred the hairdos of Shanice van den Sanden and her team to win the tournament, but that’s for a different blogpost.
For now, a Hup Holland Hup to a well-played World Cup! This is to athletic excellence. This is to the joy of sport. This is to a level playing field in football. And just to be fair to my dad: he encouraged both me and my brother to join the local football club at the same time, so my passion comes straight from him.
- British Future
- NY Times
- copyright picture: unisportstore.nl