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Have England’s Soccer Bureaucrats Ever Talked To A Girl?

Students are dissing the sport's governing body for its patronizing tips to attract female players

England’s governing body of soccer, the Football Association (commonly known as the FA), wants more girls and women to play the sport. They’re so invested in this mission, in fact, that they recently issued recommendations for increasing participation levels among female athletes with help from the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. While the document seems to be written in good faith, it’s full of generalizing duds of tone-deaf coddling, including such gems as:

- “Use colorful bibs—make sure that they’re clean and smell nice!”

- “Play music alongside participation. You could allow the group to choose their own playlist (as long as it’s suitable!)”

- “Some women/girls are deterred from playing when being watched by men. Consider a venue with limited viewing access.”

- “Allow girls the time to check their phones within a session or incorporate a Twitter break so participants can tweet about the session.”

- “Most of the time, girls only want to participate with other girls. Players with more ability may be willing to play mixed football.”

First of all, teens do not need Twitter breaks. They need Snapchat breaks—just ask a teen. More importantly, that the FA seems to think what’s holding girls back from playing more soccer is the lack of nice-smelling outfits, Adele songs, and protection from boys reveals a lot about how the organization views women’s sports—namely, as something else, something that requires pandering to stereotypes that position a girl’s spot on the field as unlikely or unnatural.

When students at Lumley Junior School near Durham, England, discovered the document, they were offended. As part of a school assignment, girls wrote letters to the FA dissing the list of recommendations.

“I am absolutely astonished that you have the nerve to write all of that absolute rubbish about women and girls playing (soccer),” 10-year-old Nancy wrote. “Your tone of voice sounds as though you think we are brainless baby Barbies!”

Her classmate Grace called out the unnecessary focus on uniforms. “We are not fussy about the smell of our bibs. Would you be?” she asked sarcastically. “And we are not afraid to get hit by a ball, so why would we need light ones—in case we break a nail?”

The school’s deputy head, Carol Hughes, said her boy and girl students were surprised by the casual sexism of the FA’s document. “We kept thinking, what would they write for boys?” Hughes said.

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