Women's World Cup: We should be able to praise England's Lionesses without shaming the men's team

Their achievements should stand on their own - not be used as a stick for shaming the Lions

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The Independent Online

I’ve had a passion for sport all my life - from running, to martial arts, to boxing and playing football. I harnessed my love of sports to build a career in broadcasting, and now, at the age of 32, I’m even taking on my first Ironman in a few weeks time.

Despite all this, whenever I wear a 'feminine' outfit, either on screen or on the pitch, it often means my sporting integrity is questioned. We’ve come so far with equality in many areas but there is still much to change - especially in sport.

But this goes both ways -  why, for example, in order to praise the England Lionesses, do we have to shame the Lions? Can't we praise the skill of the women without also knocking the men?

The Lionesses are the first England team to reach a World Cup semi final spot since 1990. It is a fantastic achievement in English sport. Yet significant amounts of coverage has focused on the gender of the players, rather than discussing the squad as team as footballers representing the nation. It undermines what these phenomenally passionate and dedicated women have achieved to reduce them to their gender, and to use their success to mock and belittle the men's team.

Recently, my mum – who works in a school  - told me the story of a very talented young footballer in her class. She asked her ‘Why don’t you join a football team?’. The girl looked confused, and replied, ‘Miss, girls can’t play on football teams’.  When the girl was told that there are football teams for women, and that she could even choose sport as a career, the girl cried out ‘No way!’ in sheer disbelief.

We still have a long way to go in cultivating a culture of equality in sport, and this begins with children. Adjusting the curriculum to prioritize sport, making it more accessible and fun in schools rather than something kids try and get a sick note to get out of, would help immeasurably in tackling the UK’s rising obesity rates.

Ultimately, young boys and girls should be inspired by their sporting passion and grow up truly believing the current fantastic campaign ‘This girl can’, but also, ‘ This boy can.

Lion or Lioness, sport is ultimately about team work and being part of a pride – whether that be a part of a school sports day, a running club, or representing your country on the pitch.

If we keep constantly comparing the opposite sex in order to celebrate or critique the other we are going to miss the beauty of the game – the sheer dedication and belief that has got the England team through to the semi finals.

When we look at the England Women’s football team, it is their undeniable passion that we should all take from this World Cup. Male or female. 

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