South Asian Lionesses, a dream…

Will England’s historic and record-breaking win pave the way for more South Asian girls and women to pursue a career in sports? We find out.

Shefali Saxena Tuesday 02nd August 2022 11:04 EDT

Last Sunday, England’s women's team made history with its Euro championship win over Germany. The English team, coached by Dutch woman Sarina Wiegman, has had an exceptional championship run. The team has broken the Guinness World Record (GWR) with Euro 2022 Win.  

According to GWR, the team of Lionesses now has the record for most goals scored at a UEFA Women's European Championship. Germany broke this record in 2009 with 21 goals. Asian Voice reached out to experts, and parents in the community to share their two cents on how this win might break the stereotypes of South Asian culture and encourage more girls and women to pursue a career in football. While little girls are inspired and elated by this win, our respondents believe there is a lot of work that needs to be done in order to see more South Asian faces, especially women in sports like football. 

Leadership race candidate Rishi Sunak wants the UK to host the future Women's football World Cup. Following the Lionesses’ incredible success at UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced Government’s £230 million investment to build or improve 8,000 grassroots football and multi-sport facilities by 2025, alongside the stipulation that they must provide access to women’s and girls’ football, the move will cement the team’s legacy for generations to come. This will support the FA’s ambition for the tournament to create half a million extra opportunities for women and girls to play football. 

Women’s Lead Performance Doctor at The Football Association,  Dr Ritan Mehta tweeted: “I feel so privileged to have been part of this journey. The Lionesses are an inspiration to everyone and I couldn’t be prouder of each of them and the work they put in daily to succeed together. They deserve this as do all those that came before them who paved the way.”


Only 44 per cent of secondary schools in England offer girls equal access to football


However, the Muslim Women’s Network UK has revealed that only 44 per cent of secondary schools in England offer girls equal access to football in PE lessons. Schools serving girls living in the most deprived areas are even less likely to be offered football as an option.  Stereotypes of girls from certain communities not being interested in football will also limit the choices offered. 


MWNUK CEO, Baroness Shaista Gohir OBE, said: “We look forward to seeing Muslim women in the England squad in the future.  However, the investment will be required to develop their talent. Muslim women and girls are already interested in football. A number of grassroots projects led by Muslim women provide a safe and positive environment that facilitates girls and women to participate in a number of different sports including football. However, such initiatives will only be successful, if the local groups are well resourced. They will need funds to pay for outreach work, challenge attitudes, coaching, hiring spaces to train and play, and travel and football kits and boots.  Being involved in football does not just have to be about playing the game, some Muslim women want to be football coaches and referees. Developing girls and women for these roles will also require funding.” 


Lack of diversity ‘glaringly obvious’


Speaking to the newsweekly, Head of Diversity and Inclusion Birmingham Pride, Saima Razzaq said, “The Lionesses' iconic Euros win is an important moment for women’s football in the UK, even more so when we consider the 50-year ban on the sport, only lifted in 1970. A ban that was instigated by envious men who were threatened by the large crowd women’s football attracted.” According to Saima, by winning the Euros, our women’s team have achieved something their male counterparts haven’t managed for 53 years, and by doing so will inspire a future generation of girls to follow in their footsteps, and this must include South Asian girls too.


“The lack of diversity in the team was glaringly obvious and it doesn’t come as a surprise. We as a South Asian community though, need to make this change happen for ourselves. Just as we encourage our young boys to take an interest in sport, we must ensure we instil our young girls with the same encouragement, to become the best women they can be. The win is also timely, with this year seeing the introduction of women’s cricket into the Commonwealth Games, and we should be really proud as a South Asian community that we have both India and Pakistan represented in this historic moment,” the diversity head said. 

Will more Asian girls dream of a career in football or sports?


Professor Pragya Agarwal’s six-year-old multiracial twins started playing football at the age of two before the pandemic lockdown every week. They have continued this after the lockdown restrictions have been lifted. Along with football, they also do swimming, horse-riding, tennis, taekwondo, rock climbing and gymnastics. “They also used to do cricket but didn't enjoy it as much and so we stopped,” she said. 


Agarwal further added, “As a South Asian woman, I have never worried about a 'traditional' career path and for me, it is most important that my children find joy and pride in whatever they do. Some of these other sports will fall by the wayside as they grow and their interests become more specific. But I want them to grow healthy and active, and also as girls, I am aware they would be more likely to be susceptible to pressures and insecurities around body image. So our goal has always been to inculcate athleticism and pride in what a strong and healthy body can achieve. I grew up believing I wasn't 'sporty' and although I have played cricket, football and squash occasionally I am not athletic or fit.”


Pragya has taken up tennis lessons alongside her daughters and is also keen for them to develop team spirit and skills. “Whether they take up football as a career or not will very much depend on them, but I will continue to challenge gender stereotypes for (and with) them every day so that they do not see their gender as a limitation in any way. Representation is very important and one of our twins already talks about going to the Olympics. It is also important for them to see more British Asian women in these sports and in the bigger arenas so they don't feel their skin colour is any limitation either,” she said. 


Improve the game and opportunities available


Aatish Sharma, Chief Executive Officer - Southall FC told us, “The Lionesses have done the entire nation proud and have created history following the 2-1 win over Germany at Wembley Stadium.  We hope this fantastic achievement can really boost female participation in sports, particularly football to continue forward from the recent success. Girls' and women’s football will only grow stronger. 


“At Southall Football Club, we hope to develop a new ground and sports facilities in Southall and encourage girls and women to get involved in sports. Southall represents one of the most diverse areas in the UK, which is often forgotten. Some of the conversation following England’s success has centred around lack of diversity but here at Southall FC, we are looking to tackle this head-on by creating pathways into the game. The Lionesses have inspired all.  We must do all that we can to improve the game and improve the opportunities available, to build upon this legacy.”

Girls will get their first role models

Anirban Mukhopadhyay of Heritage Bengal Foundation told Asian Voice, “We started the IFA Shield UK for Women, to raise the awareness and interest of the womenfolk, in football, in a community where girls are not at all encouraged to take up sports- we thought if mothers are brought into the playing ground, the girl children will get their first role models and with success like today’s, it will turn into a wave in near future with girl children taking to football regularly. And of course, there is the ‘stay fit and keep healthy’ angle to this whole initiative.”


Sujatha Krishnan Barman, Advisor - The Behavioural Insights Team told the newsweekly, “It's been amazing watching the English women's team over the past week, and even more amazing watching how they're inspiring little girls up and down the country to see that as an option for them. My daughter's too young for her (or us) to be thinking about careers, but she loved seeing people *like her* play on TV yesterday with the crowds cheering, and the whole family gathered around to whoop in delight. And during halftime and breaks, she and her friend went off to kick the ball about in the garden with far more gusto than we've ever seen before.”


Richa Prasad feels that the lionesses winning the Euro finals will really change things. Her daughter Riya often wears football t-shirts but this is the first time the mother-daughter spotted more girls wearing football jerseys post the Euro win. Richa’s three-year-old niece is also learning football. “I just feel that this is going to become more mainstream with England team has done so well. Everyone, especially girls are so proud that they did the English girls team did something which the men's team hasn't been able to do. “I guess more girls will start playing football,” she told Asian Voice. Richa’s 14-year-old daughter Riya hopes to have more conversations with her friends about football since this historic win has paved the way for more dialogue around women in the game. 

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