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Two players with a football

Women’s participation in sport as athletes and fans is at an all-time high, yet men continue to outnumber women in positions of power in sport, in particular football.

These are the findings of academics from a team in our Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences. 

Background of women in football 

The researchers began by looking into the history of women’s role in football and discovered that men’s club football in England has a history of excluding women from playing, watching, and coaching football, with the sport having a strong cultural connection to working-class men and masculinities. 

This year’s Women’s FA cup final will take place at Wembley stadium, exactly 100 years after the FA banned women from playing football. Although, this signals the huge progress women have made in sport as athletes, the research team believe men continue to dominate in leadership roles in sport. 

Women are on the periphery in leadership roles

Led by PhD student Ameé Bryan, the team used archival material from the National Football Museum to analyse the patterns of women’s participation in leadership roles over 30 years in men’s football clubs in England. 

They discovered that just four per cent of the work conducted by women in leadership roles within men’s club football, was in direct contact with the players; roles such as football development, directors, and sport science. However, 50 per cent of women’s leadership work was in commercial and sales, club secretary, ticketing, and finance. 

The team also looked at gender pay gap data and discovered that some clubs chose to exclude the wages of coaching staff, most of which are carried out by men. The researchers believe that by doing this, the teams not only obscure the true extent of pay inequality in core roles, but they also fail to interrogate the phenomenon of all male coaching teams. 

Implications for the sport

The research team argue that accommodating women in peripheral leadership roles will not transform or disrupt the extremely masculine character of football. They continue to say that they believe men’s football clubs in England are unwilling to expose and address inequalities between women and men, especially in core roles, and the whole sport has remained almost impermeable to women. 

Until women are involved in equal proportion to men in core operational leadership, the researchers believe equality will never be achieved. 

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