Does England’s Euro 2022 squad have a diversity issue? How FA aims to reconnect with grassroots

They have been the standout team at Euro 2022 so far with three straight wins, 14 goals scored and clean sheet, a player leading the Golden Boot race and matches played to packed stadiums. But the positivity surrounding England’s pursuit of glory has been marred by claims that Sarina Wiegman’s team lacks the diversity of the country it represents.

While Gareth Southgate’s England men’s side reached the Euro 2020 final last year with 11 black or mixed race players in their 26-man squad, only three of the 23 players in the Lionesses squad – Nikita Parris, Demi Stokes and Jess Carter – have are of black or mixed ethnicity and none are expected to take on Wednesday’s England quarter-final against Spain in Brighton.

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During the English live broadcast of England’s 8-0 Group A win over Norway, presenter Eilidh Barbour highlighted the problem, saying: “All 11 starters and five substitutes who came on the pitch were white and that suggests a lack of diversity in women’s football in England.” Barbour’s comments prompted a backlash on social media, with high-profile off-game commentators criticizing both the presenter and the BBC for quizzing Wiegman’s squad, but former England ones Players – including Alex Scott and Anita Asante – defended Barbour and backed the suggestion that England’s Euro 2022 squad does not reflect the host country’s demographics.

“Aspiring lionesses need role models to relate to,” Asante, who played 71 games for England between 2004 and 2022, told the Guardian. “It’s one of the many reasons why diversity is so important and why it’s legitimate to question the whiteness of the England team.

“Young girls who can’t see anyone who looks like they lack heroines to emulate — and that counts.”

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Such a lack of diversity has not always been an issue within the England women’s team. Scott earned 140 caps between 2004 and 2017, while Rachel Yankey earned 129 caps between 1997 and 2013. Eni Aluko and former England head coach Hope Powell are both in the top 10 list of all-time England goalscorers. But the low number of leading black or mixed-race players in the Euro 2022 squad and also in the Women’s Super League (WSL) is a situation that has been identified by the English Football Association and there is already a plan in place to ensure future England teams are more representative for the wider society.

“I can absolutely understand Anita [Asante’s] Point of view,” Kay Cossington, head of women’s technical development at England Football Association, told ESPN. “So it’s really important that we share our work to find solutions.

“We recognize that this won’t happen overnight – we won’t find experienced players overnight to change that – but what we can do is make sure we do everything we can in the future to try and strengthen our youth development teams diversify into our seniors of the future.”

However, it is a complex issue and an unfortunate consequence of the professionalisation of women’s football and the growth of WSL since its inception in 2010. The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has also recognized this fault line and recently established the ‘See It, Achieve It’ -Campaign against the lack of visible role models from ethnically diverse backgrounds. The PFA initiative is led by former England international Fern Whelan, head of the organization for equality, diversity and inclusion in women’s football.

“We don’t want young girls to feel like the game isn’t for them,” Whelan said. “The goal of the campaign is to inspire the next generation of young players, so they see players in these positions and feel like this is a goal they can achieve.”

From a sport that grew organically within local communities in England and had a path to local teams – England’s all-time greatest performer Fara Williams was famously spotted at a ball court in Battersea, London – women’s football has come of detach from its proletarian, “everyone welcome” origins and at times only be accessible to young girls who have the family network and financial means to do so.



Steffi Jones and Julie Foudy react to the Euro 22 quarter-finals after Germany’s 3-0 win over Finland.

“We’ve all seen football grow incredibly over the last decade and that probably reflects what we’re seeing today with where our women’s teams are both with club and country,” said Cossington. “The girls’ centers of excellence were established back in 1998 and there were many across the country, but as the league and clubs became professional there was a desire to professionalize the academy system and the youth development system within clubs.

“With that came a commitment – ​​girls were expected to train at academies three times a week and then play games at the weekend – but suddenly this posed a challenge for some players who didn’t have access to it. In an attempt to raise the level of their facilities, clubs moved from more urban, inner-city areas, where most women’s clubs were founded and based, to the leafier suburbs, which in turn presented a challenge for young girls to actually gain access to these facilities .

“Girls still have to pay to play in the academy system but boys are actually paid to play and they are often taken to and from training by the clubs. There aren’t the resources for that in women’s football.

“A combination of events has brought us to where we are now. It’s not an individual’s fault, but we’ve acknowledged it and are working absolutely hard with clubs to help them provide a diverse game pool and talent pipeline in the Academy system, filling its senior team and players for England team.”

The detachment of WSL clubs and their institutions from the cities has arguably impacted young girls from the traditional hotbeds of sports talent who, due to inaccessibility/logistics, cost or other factors that deny them the opportunity to attend the academy engage, can progress in the game system. As a result, the FA established the Discover My Talent program in 2021, a referral system that can open a path for any girl credited with having that talent.



Emma Hayes and Danielle Slaton react as Sweden and Netherlands reach the Euro 22 quarter-finals.

There is also a partnership with the English Football League (EFL) Trust working with 34 community trusts in the country and a link with the Premier League to launch 70 Emerging Talent Centers from next season. In addition, there are “Wildcats Centers” across the country where girls between the ages of 5 and 11 can take their first steps in the game. All of the above are geographically spread across England and are accessible in areas that have been disenfranchised.

“It means young girls can stay in their own community, in an environment that works for them, gives them the competitive balance they need and also gives them access to a talent pathway into the clubs and the talent pathway of England,” said Cossington. “We try to appeal to every community. These are different races and religions, but also different social demographics — people who live in more urban areas and may not have the infrastructure, parental support, or money.

“This is still a challenge in women’s football. And while parents might allow a 12-13-year-old boy to use public transport to travel to training at an academy, it would be a parental decision whether you would be comfortable with 12-13-year-old girls taking the take the same trip.”

Since its launch in April 2021, the Discover My Talent program has delivered impressive results which the FA hope will turn the tide back towards greater diversity at all levels of women’s football.

“In one year that Discover My Talent has been running, we’ve had 1,666 referrals that haven’t yet been in our system, which is far more than we ever anticipated,” said Cossington. “Of that number, 204 of those players were referred to our talent path. Those are big numbers.”

Almost a third of the players placed were from London and the South East region, with a quarter from the North East, which includes Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough, according to FA data. The North East and North West – which include Manchester and Liverpool – had the highest number of players from the most disadvantaged areas. But after repairing the supply line of talent from areas where the game had lost touch, Cossington says the challenge now is to ensure those players progress within the system.

“The key to that now is how we can work with local organizations, local community clubs, to tap into funding, transportation support, whatever, to help these girls stay in the game and get solidified in it,” Cossington said.

“We don’t want to find them and then they fall out again: how can we best help them? That’s where the EFL Trust comes in, because these coaches are at the heart of these communities. They understand the communities, they have coaches who look like those communities and represent them and that’s really important because it’s a lot better than someone you don’t know just showing up with an FA badge on their shirt.

“What we are trying to do with the Discover My Talent program and the Emerging Talent Centers is that we are trying to find positive solutions for every young girl who shows potential. We’re trying to offer support – that’s key for me.”

England’s progress so far at Euro 2022 is undoubtedly generating a lot of interest and inspiring potential new talent, but women’s football lacks role models like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka, who have become such prominent figures in men’s football. But there is hope that the seeds of change will soon bear fruit.

“That is definitely something that is a priority [for the FA], and now things are fine,” said England captain Leah Williamson in Tuesday’s pre-match conference call. “This tournament will do such a good job of inspiring so many and no one should be denied the opportunity to be there. I think that’s really important, it’s something we’re passionate about and thankfully so is the FA. So yes, it’s on the agenda, it’s a priority and we hope to see the impact in the future.” Does England’s Euro 2022 squad have a diversity issue? How FA aims to reconnect with grassroots

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