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Two in three teenage girls unable to name a Lionesses player, report finds

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The Lionesses’ historic Euro 2022 victory has had “little effect” on teenage girls’ engagement and participation with women’s football, particularly in inner-city areas, according to a new report.

With 100 days to go until the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the impact of England’s victory at the European Championships last summer and efforts to improve the diversity of the team have been called into question following new research from the organisation Football Beyond Borders.

The findings of the report revealed that two in three teenage girls are unable to name any players in the Lionesses team, while girls in cities were more likely to have watched less women’s football since the Euros or none at all when compared with their counterparts in suburbs, towns and villages.

Respondents to the Football Beyond Borders survey from inner-city areas said most did not feel a “strong personal and emotional connection” with the players on the England team, with the lack of “ethnic and ends” representation highlighted as a significant factor.

The lack of diversity in England’s team was criticised throughout the Euros. The Lionesses squad featured just three Black or mixed-heritage players in Jess Carter, Nikita Parris and Demi Stokes.

The Football Association achieved one of its legacy goals after the Euros with the government’s announcement that it would provide girls equal access to football in schools, and has also restructured its elite player pathway programme in order to improve diversity and inclusivity.

But the research from Football Beyond Borders warns that the FA “could fall short” of delivering on the legacy of the Lionesses, and says that even victory at the World Cup this summer “could still fail” to capture the imagination of teenage girls in inner-cities due to the lack of diversity of the team.

Commenting on the report, former England international Alex Scott said: “Now in women’s football people think it’s great. It’s fully professional. They think about the Lionesses. This research shows that there’s still so much work to do. There’s a disconnect and improvements we need to make.”

The FA said in December that there had been a 12.5 per cent increase in female players registered and a 15 per cent increase in female youth teams in the four months following the Euros, but Football Beyond Borders says its research suggests this only amounts to 17 per cent of teenage girls playing for a club.

The Chelsea manager Emma Hayes recently criticised women’s football for being a “middle-class sport” and warned girls from inner cities were at risk of being left behind. “In terms of the locations, the pedigree of the player, they’re often coming from suburban belts around the training grounds,” Hayes said.

An FA spokesperson said: “Football Beyond Borders is doing vital work to support the growth of women’s football. We also recognise the need to engage differently with young people, and share the commitment to ensuring it is a game for all. That includes working with government so every girl can have the chance to play in school.

“We have also completely restructured our talent pathway so more young girls from all backgrounds can find a local place to play and are then ensuring it is possible for the very best talent to be identified. Of course, while progress is being made, there is always more to do.”

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