Thursday, May 30, 2024

An in-depth look at Arsenal Women’s lack of ethnic diversity: why it matters, how it happened and how it is being tackled

“The history of the club, both the men’s and the women’s first team, has a very proud history of players coming from diverse backgrounds and the club are very proud of that. Us not having that diversity in the women’s first team squad today, of course, that is a problem. Women’s football has a diversity problem in getting people of colour involved in football. Not only at the top level but also at grassroots level, we have to work with that and so do the FA and other clubs.”

These were the words of Arsenal Women boss Jonas Eidevall a couple of weeks ago when quizzed on the lack of visible ethnic diversity in the current first team women’s squad, which has no visible women of colour. (We should be careful to use the word ‘visible’ too because sometimes players can be of mixed heritage in ways that are not immediately visible).

When Arsenal published the official image of their first team squad on Twitter, it provoked a backlash given the lack of women of colour in the photo. Arsenal defender Lotte Wubben-Moy told the Stadio podcast last week, “I’m glad there was uproar. We are a London club and there is by no means any visibility or any encouragement for young girls who are of a Black and minority ethnic group to look up to the Arsenal team and say, ‘there is a possibility for me here.”

Arsenal have shown a willingness to address the issue publicly, releasing a statement that read, “We acknowledge our current women’s first-team squad does not reflect the diversity that exists across the club and the communities we represent. Increasing participation among young women and girls from diverse backgrounds is a key priority for us at academy level, with specific measures in place to improve pathways and accessibility.

“Across all our teams, including our men’s and women’s academies, we’re proud of our players from diverse backgrounds who have contributed to our history, success and culture. It’s a priority for the club to continue to drive greater diversity and inclusion and create a sense of belonging for everyone connected to the club.”

Lotte is not the only player to publicly address the issue, Vivianne Miedema wrote about it in her column in Dutch publication AD and Jen Beattie talked about it on Sky Sports’ 3 players and a podcast podcast. Allowing Arseblog News to talk to Academy Manager James Honeyman, who we will hear from later in the piece, is part of the club being open about this issue. When James McNicholas and Art de Roche wrote about this issue for The Athletic, four of the 12 WSL clubs they contacted did not respond to a request for comment.

So how has this situation happened? The club that proudly displays women’s team legends like Rachel Yankey, Alex Scott, Mary Philip and Anita Asante (who we will hear from later in this piece) on the side of its stadium. The team that arguably did more than any other British club to welcome Black players and fans of colour at a time when English football stadia were exceptionally difficult and dangerous places to be for those communities. The club whose men’s squad currently boasts Black London talent like Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson.

Arseblog News spoke to fans, former player Anita Asante and current Women’s Academy Manager James Honeyman to get to the root of the issue, why we have gone backwards in terms of racial diversity in English women’s football and at Arsenal, what is being done to solve the issue and why it is important, it is a problem and it does need addressing.

Why is it important?
Many clack their tongues and ask ‘why does it matter? We don’t want quotas; we just want the best players regardless of their race,’ when presented with this issue. The last part of that rebuttal actually illustrates a big part of the problem, when you lack diversity it means you are not getting the best talent. English women’s football has been hemorrhaging Black and Asian talent for many years now.

I mentioned Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah earlier in the piece. If those players were girls, there is almost no chance that they would have had the pathways available to become professional footballers. At least one, probably two, maybe even all three would be lost to the game as girls. In our chat, Anita Asante points out that the women’s team scoured the globe for a top class left-footed centre-half this summer to replace outgoing Brazilian defender Rafaelle and couldn’t find one, instead opting to sign two right-footed centre-halves.

“There is probably a 25 or 26-year-old Black girl out there who could have been that player for Arsenal or anyone else, but has been lost to the game,” Asante, herself a top-class defender, offers. This has become an even bigger issue across women’s football over the last 15 years or so and not just for Black and Asian girls but for White working-class girls too.

Around 15 years ago, the Football Association shut down a number of Regional Talent Centres (RTCs) for girls in urban, more diverse areas. It means women’s football has been far more accessible to girls in whiter boroughs like Surrey (where Chelsea are based) and Hertfordshire (where Arsenal are based). England’s own training base at St. George’s Park is buried in the secluded Burton-on-Trent countryside and requires a car to reach.

England’s 2011 World Cup squad had six players of colour. England’s Euro 2022 winning squad had three, two of whom did not make an appearance in the tournament. England has been losing Black female talent and, arguably, has never really had a grip of South Asian female talent. While Arsenal and Everton Women currently have no visible POC in their first team squads, on most WSL squads you won’t need more than one hand to count the number of POC in each roster. When it comes to South Asian Women, you probably won’t need more than one hand to count the number across the league.

But there are other reasons this is important. Representation. Whilst not an end in itself, representation is a means that becomes self-perpetuating. That is what Wubben-Moy meant when she talked about young Black and Asian girls looking at Arsenal and not seeing a pathway for themselves. Pippa Monique is a regular on the Arsenal Women Arsecast as well as having her own highly successful YouTube channel on women’s football.

In our first Arsenal Women Arsecast together back in 2019, Pippa explained how Rachel Yankey, an Arsenal and England legend, was her gateway into supporting the women’s team. Pippa has a young son playing grassroots football and says she sees a lot of biases around girls’ football in her local area. “I know a young Mixed-Race girl who plays with my son’s team, she is so, so good. I talk to her parents and ask why she hasn’t been picked up by a club.

“They tell me she has been to train with clubs and they say they really like her but then they just never hear back. I asked out of interest what the make up of these trials look like and they said their daughter is normally the only girl there who isn’t White. This is a very normal story.” Arsenal Women fan Miles Giscombe is Mixed Race and from London and he says the diversity of nationalities in the men’s and women’s squads has such a positive impact that the lack of ethnic diversity jars.

“Having players from multiple countries absolutely has a positive impact on the team dynamic, playstyle and shows children, young adults and even adults that they can achieve their own success,” says Miles. “I’d also argue it increases the fanbase as people are able to find a place where they see themselves represented with the players. With London being such a diverse place, it also feels odd to see a team that hardly reflects the area they represent.

“The lack of racial diversity runs the risk of making POC fans feel like they don’t belong. I’ve spoken to several people who have told me they were hesitant to start supporting Arsenal Women as they were unsure they would be welcome due to the lack of POC in the team.” I would add that it’s probably not a coincidence that women’s football has such a large gay female fan base when there are so many out gay players- it creates an environment of acceptance and comfort.

A wider issue
A lack of ethnic diversity is, as the Jonas Eidevall quote at the head of this article suggests, a problem for women’s football overall. Arsenal are not the only team in the WSL to have no POC in their first team squad. Everton also have no POC. (They lost left-back Gabby George to Manchester United somewhat against their will on transfer deadline day when her release clause was triggered).

Everton fan and broadcaster Marva Kreel hails from Tottenham and spent time in the Spurs girls’ academy when she was a teenager. Marva has Indian and Jewish heritage. “When I played for Spurs as a kid, my mum used to make jokes about the amount of blonde ponytails back in 2005! In my first year there, me, one British-Greek girl and one British-Jewish girl were the only people with different backgrounds on the whole team. And this was in Tottenham!

“The demographics of my local school in Tottenham could not have been more different. But our matches were all in Hertfordshire, our training was on the edge of Enfield, so if you didn’t have a car, you couldn’t go.” Like Arsenal, Everton have a Scandinavian Head Coach in Dane Brian Sorensen and they recruit heavily from that region, where the make up of women’s football is largely White.

Kreel semi accepts that as an explanation for the lack of ethnic diversity in the Everton squad, as well as the wider issues around girl’s football in the UK that she experienced first-hand. “One of the few things that is more unique to Everton (and Arsenal) is having a Scandinavian manager who has picked players he knows from that area.

“But even that has the wider context of Scandinavian countries being some of the few countries in the world who put a lot into the infrastructure of women’s football over the last few decades while most other countries we see highly represented in men’s football, did not. But I hope Everton recognise the importance of role models too.

“While most of the issues aren’t their fault, the world of football can already be a very exclusionary place for young girls, let alone young POC girls. And it can just take one player who looks a bit like you, reminds you a bit of you and your mates, to make you believe all is possible.” Miles acknowledges the wider issues around talent from Black and Asian communities but still wants to see Arsenal cast the net further in their external recruitment.

“This recruiting method has absolutely hindered us in my opinion,” Miles says. “For example, even after the World Cup where we saw so much talent from players across the world, we still only ended up signing a very specific type of player. I don’t think this is purposeful or done with malicious intent. In fact, I’d go so far as to say there could be a lack of diversity in the staff which could result in no one picking up on the biases when recruiting players.

“No one wants Arsenal to only focus on the colour of a player’s skin when deciding on whether or not they want to pursue them, but I think that players of colour may be being overlooked. I definitely think that Arsenal have to do better with recruitment, moreso internationally than domestically.”

Under Jonas Eidevall, Arsenal came very close to signing current Manchester United forward Geyse, a deal was virtually agreed until Barcelona stole in in the summer of 2022. My information is that they had interest in Malawian forward Temwa Chawinga, a deal that would have been complicated for work permit reasons. They also had an interest in current Real Madrid forward Naomi Feller.

At the same time, in her recent autobiography, Alex Scott says there were occasions during her time at the club where she felt racially profiled in discussions over her ‘conduct.’ There are several current WSL players of colour who came through Arsenal’s academy. Spurs striker Jessica Naz and goalkeeper Rebecca Spencer. Liverpool captain Taylor Hinds and, perhaps most notably, Chelsea star Lauren James.

Do we give Arsenal credit for producing Black and Mixed Race talent? (again, there is a separate issue around South Asian players that also exists in the men’s game) Or do we question why a talent like Lauren James left the club at the age of 16 to join Manchester United? Lauren’s father, Nigel, recently recounted a story about James training with the first team at the age of 14 but reportedly, the environment proved difficult for her and she trained with the U16 boys instead.

Again, do we give Arsenal credit for trying to promote a clearly talented young player and coming up with a strong interim solution of training with older boys when the women’s first team felt a bridge too far? Is it just normal that it might have been too early for a 14-year-old to thrive around seasoned internationals? (Arsenal gave James her first team debut aged 16).

Or do alarm bells sound that a young Black girl didn’t quite fit? At the time, Vyan Sampson, Danielle Carter, Alex Scott, Asisat Oshoala and Chiomu Ubogagu were part of the Arsenal first team setup but that doesn’t entirely explain why James felt she needed to move on in 2018 when only Carter remained.

Drop in representation
While we shouldn’t pretend the past was a utopia, it wasn’t always like this in women’s football in the UK. Arsenal’s quadruple winning team of 2006-07 featured several Black and Mixed-Race players (again, there were no South Asian players) Rachel Yankey, Mary Philip, Alex Scott, Lianne Sanderson, Rebecca Spencer and Anita Asante.

A composite image of Lianne Sanderson and Anita Asante
2006-07 quadruple winners Lianne Sanderson and Anita Asante talking to Arseblog News in January 2023

Asante, now a coach and TV pundit, explains her route into the Arsenal academy to Arseblog News. “It started where I grew up in Stonegrove Estate (in Edgware). I started playing in the tennis and basketball courts that were free to play in, then I played at school and my head of PE put a girls’ team together. She got a fax from Arsenal saying they were holding trials in Burnt Oak.

“I went along with some mates but it shows you the connection there was between clubs and schools. The first session I had was with Clare Wheatley and Rachel Yankey. Before that I didn’t even know women’s football existed. Arsenal invited me to a Centre of Excellence in Hackney, in an indoor facility. I went there and trained and it went from there. It started with a fax to my school.”

Asante pinpoints the importance of community spaces within her estate and wonders whether a reduction in those spaces over the years has contributed to the talent drain, “There are far fewer public football courts in these areas where kids can go and play now. I think that makes it harder to find Black and Asian girls who are playing in those areas.” For Asante, the picture, while not totally perfect, was certainly more representative than the current situation in women’s football and at Arsenal.

Asante came through at a time when Hope Powell was the England manager. Powell, a Black woman, coached the National Team for 15 years. Her successor, Mark Sampson, was embroiled in a scandal after he was accused of allegedly making a series of racially insensitive comments to Black and Mixed-Race players. “I had the privilege of growing up and being around Rachel Yankey and Mary Philip,” Asante explains.

“I grew up playing with Alex Scott, who was from Poplar, I could name a lot of players from that demographic that I don’t see coming through. Maybe there was a closer connection with grassroots football in inner city communities to scout talent.” Anita believes that women’s football at the grassroots level has been guilty of overlooking or excluding young people due to the challenges some of them face.

“We are missing whole demographics of young people, including White working-class kids, when we don’t look at some of the challenges that these kids face. If, for example, you come from a family with lots of siblings, in these communities, there is a lot of responsibility to look after younger siblings because maybe their parents are working during times when there is training and that stops kids. That is one challenge we have to try to support.” Raheem Sterling recently talked about how his older sister took him to training every day as a teenager.

Asante was a member of the 2006-07 quadruple winning team, starting both legs of the UEFA Cup Final against Umea. As a result, Asante’s face is daubed onto the side of Emirates Stadium, it’s the first part of Emirates Stadium you see as you exit Holloway Road tube station. Alex Scott, Lianne Sanderson, Mary Philip and Rachel Yankey all feature on the new stadium wrap too.

Anita Asante, along with Lianne Sanderson, Alex Scott, Mary Philip and Rachel Yankey, all feature on this artwork on the side of Emirates Stadium

Asante believes that level of visibility is vital for girls of colour in the local area. “I feel very honoured that we came through at the time we did and have that legacy within the history of the club. We want young girls from Islington to look at that and say, ‘wow, that’s where the club was and I want to be part of that and I can see myself being part of that journey in the future.’ It is important that young people see that pathway and that platform to step onto.”

Growing up in London in the late 90s and early 2000s, Asante says that Arsenal was a club that she identified with, “Even before I came to Arsenal, as a Londoner, there was a great attraction to Arsenal for me on the men’s side because of Vieira, Ian Wright, Thierry Henry and a number of players. A lot of us could really identify with that so now you don’t see it (in the women’s team) it does make you think ‘what’s happened?’

“I have a close family friend and she is in her 70s, she is a Black woman and she has always gone to Arsenal men’s games alone. That is quite unique in my culture; but she loves the representation, with the players and the team, she feels a connection and she feels welcome and safe.” Anita, known to her friends as ‘Neetz’, also points to the marketing work Adidas and Arsenal have done in recent years in advertising club merchandise.

“One of the things I have loved seeing as a Londoner is the marketing and it’s so linked to the local culture, the fashion, the music, the slang- a lot of that is coming from Afro-Caribbean culture. They are utilising that to market Arsenal but there is none of that visibility in the women’s side. If I am a young Black girl looking at those adverts, I am thinking, ‘that’s really cool but where is that in the women’s team?’”

At least part of the explanation for Arsenal Women’s current lack of ethnic diversity is, as mentioned earlier in the piece, a proclivity towards recruiting from Scandinavia. Asante played in Sweden for five years and current Arsenal coach Jonas Eidevall signed her to play for Rosengard in 2013. Asante says that she was often the only Black player on her team during spells at Goteborg, Malmo and Rosengard.

“I think London is probably more diverse than most places in Sweden. At Goteborg I was the only Black player in the team. Most players were Swedish or from America. Initially when I joined Malmo, I was the only Black player but we signed a Cameroonian player and then some Ghanian players, then there was Marta, Ali Riley was from a mixed Asian background.”

However, Asante says she found diversity in the community, “Malmo was considered the most diverse city in Sweden, there was a big Eastern European culture and Somalian culture. I found an African hairdresser in Malmo and that was a game changer. That made me feel more settled and helped me to find a community outside the club. It was just one Ghanian woman who had African hair products and opened this shop and she talked to me about things from our culture- food and hair.”

Asante does worry that Arsenal’s current situation, especially given the public nature of it, might have unintentionally produced a vicious cycle where Black players the club wants to sign might have pause for thought. “What would it take to get that player to the club? What would they need to transition and settle in a club that isn’t the most diverse? If you need a welfare officer, or someone on the technical staff, more diversity there could be a solution.”

The future 

A recent picture of the women’s U21s team

From an admittedly low bar, the current Arsenal U21 team looks more representative than the first team squad. Michelle Agyemang scored her first goal for the Gunners first team in January and has a pre-agreement in place for her first professional contract in February when she turns 18. Meanwhile, Araya Dennis is on loan at Crystal Palace. In the recent WSL game away at Leicester City, academy graduate Vivienne Lia made the matchday squad for the first time.

I chat to Arsenal Women Academy Manager James Honeyman about the club’s efforts to ensure future first-team squad photos look different and to boost participation among Black and Asian girls. While Arsenal is based in Islington, Arsenal Women has, traditionally, been quite a Hertfordshire concern. Though Honeyman says efforts have been made to reach out into inner-city London communities for female talent.

“Inner city kids are under-represented in all elite sports but in women’s football especially,” he explains. “There is no hiding that our women’s academy is based in Hertfordshire. About 50% of our players come from outside the M25 and 50% from London boroughs.” I put it to James that Alex Scott was discovered by Arsenal in the 1990s playing cage football in Tower Hamlets and ask whether Arsenal potentially lost that level of connection to the inner cities.

“Someone like Alex Scott wasn’t recruited by a Talent ID strategy, it was someone walking past a cage and saying, ‘who is that?’ We have recruited a few players like that.” Honeyman says that Arsenal used to have something approaching a monopoly on young talent in London, which is no longer the case. “Now, there are three academies between us and Tower Hamlets, Leyton Orient, West Ham and Spurs.

“Maybe the route for Alex Scott to Arsenal isn’t the same but the access route is there. The FA have worked on Emerging Talent Centres for girls in the last few years which means around 99% of girls in England are within 30 minutes of a centre. That should lower that parent cost and make it easier for inner city kids.

“Now there are 32 academies and that’s why England are so successful. It’s no longer just up to Arsenal to absorb all that talent. There isn’t much point in us recruiting someone from Southeast London, which is a real hotbed, and it’s still a 1-2 hour journey and the girls are travelling past five academies to come to us. The women’s game is not at that stage yet. But we recruit equally from inner city London and then Hertfordshire and Essex.”

However, while Arsenal Women, who train in St. Albans and have long played home games in Boreham Wood, might not have the monopoly on London talent they once had (Lianne Sanderson is from Lewisham as well as Scott being from Poplar), Honeyman says efforts are being made to recruit more girls from Islington, including a bus service the club now run for girls from North London to the club’s Colney training ground to remove the cost and time of travel from the parent(s).

Honeyman says a lot of the club’s efforts with girls from ethnic minority backgrounds are also focused on growing the game, which Arsenal believe will have future benefits when it comes to recruiting the best talent from every background. “We have a working group and we are looking at what that diversity looks like, both from the growing the game perspective to looking at the top talent.

“The average women’s academy in the UK has about 10% representation from Black and minority ethnic kids, we’re at about 32% at the moment. That 32% is more reflective of North London.” However, Honeyman is also wary of making assumptions about what a more ethnically diverse academy would look like and not assuming the experience of all ethnic minority girls is the same.

“Some of our POC are from affluent families, some aren’t. Sometimes I think the strategies too much think that every kid in the city is poor and that’s not always the case. We need to understand how we increase kids from every background, every affluence, every race, every faith.” James also thinks the rise in profile of the women’s game will lead to a natural growth in representation.

“There are potential careers in this now and that’s a huge piece. In the past, that wasn’t the case. We have only had two professional leagues for a short amount of time. In the past, maybe people couldn’t see the careers. In the boys’ game you could see it. Now these girls can see their role-models on Sky Sports and understand there could be a full-time career for them.”

There are key differences between participation of Black girls, which was once stronger but has dropped off and South Asian girls, which has always been low. Arsenal have started to run events for South Asian girls in North London with a view to creating more of a pipeline into that community in the future. “Most of our diversity strategy at the moment is more around growing the game,” explains Honeyman.

“Taking the Asian community in particular, getting more girls playing team sport, getting parents and girls to understand the value of team sport is a big part. We do recruit in certain boroughs which we know are diverse but we don’t go there to look at specific ethnicities, as such. Recruiting more South Asian girls, I think, will be a by-product of all clubs growing the game in those areas.

“Our academies have around 200 players, that alone is not going to make enough of an impact to increase diversity in the women’s game. A lot of that is about putting those sessions on closer to those communities, saying ‘just come along and play and have a positive experience with the sport have a positive connection with Arsenal.’ That helps to grow the game and then you find that talent.”

Honeyman also emphasises the importance of working with Black and Asian girls in an effective way so that the focus is not just on getting them into the building, “Different ethnicities need different nutrition, different physical preparation different loading programmes. There is so much more we need to learn about maximising and managing this talent.

“I use the term ‘manage talent’ a lot because it’s great to get greater diversity into the building but then how do we bespoke programmes to Black and Asian athletes who have a different anatomical make up? There is a whole learning piece for the game. I don’t want for the academy to just look more diverse- I want that talent to go on and flourish.”

In summary
As a White man, it is not for me to make conclusions based on the experiences and opportunities of Black and Asian girls. That is why I will present you with no conclusion of my own- it is not for me to conclude. We wanted to present the information from as many angles as possible and hope that we have done that. We appreciate this is a long piece; but we think it’s an important subject and that it deserved serious interrogation. We are really thankful to Pippa, Miles, Marva, Anita and James for speaking to us as candidly as they did.

Please note for this article that we have capitalised words like ‘Asian’, ‘Black’, ‘Mixed-Race’ and ‘White’ in accordance with UK government guidelines around writing about Race. We have also been careful to use the phrase ‘visible ethnic diversity’ because sometimes one’s Race is not immediately detectable by sight, especially for those who might be from mixed heritage.

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Badaab

Asante hits the nail on the head when bringing up ‘working class’ in her statement, because fundamentally that’s what it is and why the squad has the complexion it does now. It’s true that representation matters (though diversity in this manner is often used by corporations as a commodity and is not a difference of opinion or background), but being able to afford the time off work to take your kids to practice and games is a huge factor in the development of younger talent from less privileged backgrounds.

CommunistGunner

Such an on comment, very uncommon. And to come and find it under an article on a football news site. It had to be arseblog.

CommunistGunner

On point*

Fun Gunner

Agree totally. And it’s not just a problem for football – girls’ and women’s sport in general seems to only be open to the middle classes. I watch netball and athletics as well and it’s the same. it’s just that football has always been traditionally a working class sport so it’s more obvious.

Rvp

(Consider South Park) No Tolkiens, if they deserve to be in team, so be it. That’s the only thing that should matter.

BillyKrystal

Well who’d want Tolkien in their team? He’d never shut up about Saruman this, and Five Armies that. Although his familiarity with orcs might do us well against Stoke and now Newcastle.

Little Cubby

I totally agree with you

Gary

Well done, Tim, this digs into a complicated issue and gives it the space it deserves. And good reporting going into it, thanks for an enlightening read.

Good luck weathering the comments – on Twitter mostly, where it’s clear that most did not read more than the headline.

Michael

The appearance of the squad appears to lack diversity but for most it is who wears the shirt and not where they come from or what colour their skin maybe. The so called furore may be a bone fide issue or it may be the only way others can find to knock Arsenal WFC who have been the first or almost first to introduce all that no other WSL club can compete with: History, record success, record attendances, Arsenal Women’s away kit, attracting the top players, playing at the club’s stadium ALL with diversity. We have, as the article states,… Read more »

Michael

I agree with that answer. I do see this as a stick to beat the best team ever with because they have nothing else but envy.

Fun Gunner

Quite so!

Spanish Gooner

One of the key issues is that talented boys are all snapped up by academies by age 10 at the very latest and often at 7/8, whereas the girls often pay their own way until u14/15, and this was even more true 10 years ago when the average WSL player was a teenager. I (happily) pay about £1500 a year for my daughter’s team fees, kit etc. Find the average colour in the UK of people with a spare grand and half per child and that probably closely maps the WSL.

verstellung

Socioeconomics are a huge factor !!
Even over here in the states.

fred

I’m not defending the overall setup in the US, but compared to what other sports? In the December callup there’s Cook, Girma, Krueger, Vignola, Fischel, Purce, Rodman, Shaw, Smith, Thomson, Williams—that’s 11 out of 26.

Fun Gunner

Agree again – “soccer moms” are suburban middle class. The football players in America are not, by and large, black girls from the projects or white girls from trailer parks. (Leaving aside the odd refugee/immigrant made good.)

Rufusstan

I was about to make a similar comment. That being that all football in the US has been a middle class activity. In the northern states at least, basketball seems to be more the working class activity for kids, with it’s lower financial level for participation. My sister lives in New York where football is ‘pay to play’ for both boys and girls. Without money being spent on the infrastructure, girls and women’s football over here will go the same way. (As already mentioned by others, all the infrastructure is there for boys already). Until that happens large, swathes if… Read more »

Eric Blair

Funny that football was always a working class sport all over the world, especially because of its accessibility, yet in the US it’s a middle class one.

Hurensohn

Well then why is there over representation of POC in male football throughout the age groups and at all levels?

It doesn’t stand up that’s it’s all (or even mostly) economics.

nombre de cambio

School playgrounds are massively chauvinistic, the boys exclude the girls, girls might end up in adult organised girls only football, if they have mum or dads taxi service. Not all boys are like that but it only takes a few

The G

Great article Tim. I come from South Africa and I can say there are a lot of untapped talent here that Arsenal can look at.

Bal Gill

Totally disagree with this article. I always thought one is selected on merit alone not on ethnic diversity. What next fixed quotas of black players on match day and on the bench!!! Look at the criticism the Lionesses got for the same reason – diversity. Let’s not forget England had black players and some did play. The team was picked on form, tactics, results and merit and picking the squad for the sake of diversity is inappropriate and wrong. Although I was one of the best players at my club, I always felt I would never play if not selected… Read more »

Santi’s Phonebox

Great response Tim. Some choose not to see the barriers due to their own fragility. To be white in this day and age and think there are no systemic and socioeconomic barriers for POC girls participation is mind blowing to me. Great article keep up the good work.

Jack

Tim, I love your stuff and been a fan of your writing for years. But you can’t just respond to every dissenting opinion (some of which are said respectfully, not referring to the obvious c*nts) with “oh you clearly didn’t read the article” Your defense is also quite disingenuous. “I didn’t mention quotas anywhere”. We all understand that (those have us who read the article) but when skin color or ethnicity becomes a controversy, the clubs natural reaction will be to look at that team photo in coming years and quota internally to avoid such controversy. I’m perfectly aware you’re… Read more »

Iceman

They’re not talking about affirmative action here (on twitter they might be, but not here).  That’s not what is being discussed in this article. In fact, I’d argue it’s the opposite of that. What’s being discussed is how to get more female diversity involved in the game in general, which inherently increases diversity in higher quality players, which would make affirmative action not only unnecessary but completely irrelevant.

Douglas bobby

I’m confused why skin color is the only benchmark for “diversity”. What about nationality, cultural background, style of play, religion, etc, etc. You can have a group of people that look the same and yet are very diverse or a group of people that look very different and are not diverse at all. The skin color over all other metrics is long in the tooth and needs to go.

Tim Stillman

I don’t think we’ve said that in the piece. In fact, the diversity of nationalities is mentioned but I think it’s undeniable that Black, Asian and White working class kids all currently experience significant barriers to entry in women’s football that need to be removed. It’s not for no reason that the current first team squads of two top flight clubs currently don’t have a single POC between them.

Wrighty’s hats

It’s not the only benchmark…. but it is the most ‘visible’, one that you can sense in an instant from a photo. The other forms of diversity you mentioned are important as well, yes, but skin colour serves as a marker for ethnic diversity – something that faces systemic barriers just about everywhere. As the article discusses, skin colour doesn’t always mean something or another, but in a lot of cases, in a general sense, there are structural reasons why people of colour don’t have access to the same opportunities as white people. Simply focusing on skin colour lacks nuance,… Read more »

Douglas bobby

Surely this is problematic to look at the most visible trait which is also immutable btw and start making assumptions about someone. Isn’t it stereotyping to assume that a POC has a more difficult time than someone who is White? I know plenty of POC who would be offended that someone assume they come from a poor upbringing simply because of skin color. I also know plenty of White people who do come from difficult circumstances.

Wrighty’s hats

Completely agree with you about stereotyping being wrong. But are you saying you think there isn’t an issue with the photo? I’m afraid I haven’t been able to make my case effectively but Tim’s article (and his comment here) covers it well I think. I’ll just say this – there is something to be said about visible/visual representation. Seeing someone who looks like you, who has the same background as you (yes for sure that may include more than just what you look like) come before you, showing you that it’s possible for someone who looks like you and/or comes… Read more »

Bjorn

Didn’t Arsenal women quite recently sell on a couple of fairly high profile POC players? Nikita Paris comes to mind. If this is such an important thing, maybe Eidevall could have done more to make them work in his system?

Fun Gunner

Not just for the sake of it, no.

Bjorn

I agree.. it was sort of tongue in cheek. Recruiting depends on connections and network to a large extent. Eidevall is swedish, so.. Blackstenius, Hurtig

Iceman

heh… particularly when Parris did a whole lot of fuck all for us.

(though it’s good it seems like she has gotten her career back on track somewhat now)

Gus Caesar

Thanks Tim. A really interesting and informative piece.

Adorno

Really great piece Tim. It seems to me we need to reframe the issue , not about fixing a ‘lack of diversity’ , but rather, about addressing racial and social inequality. As this this article shows there are a range of different obstacles that black and Asian girls face in particular: classism, regionalism, outright racism at times. Thanks as well for raising the very specific issue or British South Asian experience in football, something that is perhaps even a bigger problem in the men’s game.

Hurensohn

Interesting though that neither “classism, regionalism, outright racism at times.” have stopped male football from having a pretty diverse player pool?

Adorno

I can’t wait to hear your reasons for why there are hardly any British Asian players in men’s football!

PS. Also, read the article.

Hurensohn

Are you suggesting that British Asian players come from a lower class or that they are racially discriminated more than other POC? Personally, I think it’s more a culture thing…

Regardless, I would love to hear you reason how those 3 things (classism, regionalism, racism) have prevented Asian players but not say black players from progressing though British football.

The Mickster

A great, insightful article, into what is a very complex and emotive subject.
it would be interesting to know the socio economic backgrounds of the current and academy squads, as i’d hazard a guess, this would be a far greater barrier to entry than race.
As well as cultural barriers where parents would not see football as a worthwhile cause to spend energy on over academic pursuits, especially 10 years ago, pre WSL when the current players would of needed to make such choices, as when you have limited familial resources, choices are hard.

Hattrick

I was thinking this too, the academy access for one is primarily a class issue, in terms of time and money to get to places. I know a couple of Mums with boys in academies and so much of their evenings and weekends is spent taking them to play. No way they could sustain it if they worked longer hours or didn’t have a car. You can’t tell class of course, from looking at a photo. I was wondering too if there are cultural barriers with kids from certain backgrounds (especially with girls?) being encouraged to prioritise schoolwork over sports.… Read more »

Peter Story Teller

Thanks Tim, an excellent piece on a highly emotive topic. Unfortunately, the current trend is to count the non-White faces and immediately affix the racism label but “diversity” goes much deeper than that as highlighted by Anita’s comments. It is also an interesting point about the “visibility” of the diversity. I have seen comments on this site where it is obvious that the contributor is not even aware that the local girl LWM is, in fact, half Dutch! The problem with having wonderful training facilities in leafy home counties in that it precludes the inner city dwellers who are not… Read more »

Fun Gunner

Yes, I think it’s fair to say that sometimes barriers to girls’ participation in sport are internal to a community.
Interesting recent court case in France, where the FFF does not allow players to play in the Fifa-approved hijab (head scarf). The ban was upheld in court, which seems to me to be a huge pity, because football could be a huge boon for girls/women from ultra-observant religious communities. Banning the hijab just strengthens the hand of those who want to control the women because now they have to choose between being part of their family and playing football.

Cescesque

First of all, great credit to Tim Stillman for this thoughtful and well considered piece, as well as to Arseblog for giving serious space and profile to women’s football years before it was as fashionable as it is now. Regarding lack of diversity in women’s football, equality of opportunity does not result in the outcome seen in our WSL squad photo at the top. It just doesn’t. There is no doubt a combination of reasons, from socio-economic issues to young non-white girls not taking up football in the way that non-white boys do, although it should also be pointed out… Read more »

Hurensohn

“Equality of opportunity does not result in the outcome seen in our WSL squad photo at the top. It just doesn’t.” Please go watch the 2012 Olympic Games Men’s100m final. Are you saying that White men were not given equal opportunity to be there? You simply can not make that statement even if you believe it because it’s impossible to know for sure. There are a wide range of factors that come in to it. I would play 5-a-side with a group of Asian lads I knew from college every week for about 5 years. They all played and watched… Read more »

Ted

Years ago I was involved in a team called Discus FC.
when it was time for the Under 9 recruitment we approached local Cub packs. Surely there is scope for girls teams to do the same thing with Guides and Scout packs now. This will give young
girls of every race the chance to get a way in.
Good or Bad idea ,,

Karl

Well done Tim, A fantastic piece!

Teryima Adi

Great piece. We leave the relevant authorities to conclude from the facts presented and go on and do something about the issues/problems presented by the writer.

Fun Gunner

Well done, Tim – really well researched and presented article. I agree strongly with James Honeyman’s approach. I like the fact that he is not afraid to investigate how differences in different ethnicities might affect training and access. Also that black/South Asian population may be disproportionately poor, we can’t assume all the potential players from this pool are. To my mind, two factors entirely explain the first-team photo – the provenance of our managers and the changes made to the talent pathway (which we we are now mitigating, I’m pleased to read.) There is no question of racism, which is… Read more »

Fun Gunner

Aargh. Stuck in the waiting room!

In the meantime, just want to add that the vast majority of the comments so far are thoughtful and intelligent, in keeping with the tone of the article.

Gunner 1975

A lot to unpack… I hope those sadled with the decision making get to read this and make amends where necessary. I love Arsenal.❤️❤️❤️.

Ray from Norfolk, Virginia

Tim: Chapeau! An excellent long read that is really objective. COYG!

Ewmhop

Tim, thanks for this incredibly thoughtful piece. I have long wondered about this, especially what with Jonas being Scandinavian and the team seemingly getting less and less visibly diverse in the last couple of years. I am so glad potential staff bias in recruitment was mentioned for signing international talent.

Hurensohn

Great job with this Tim. Whatever the conclusion it’s something we should think about. I work in grassroots sports photography and I can tell you that in the younger female age groups there appears to be a healthy diversity but in the older female groups it definitely tapers off. It’s tough to know exactly why that is because POC are not under represent at any age in the men’s game and I see no evidence that they’re under represented in the female game at the younger ages where you would expect economics would play a greater part. Maybe we really… Read more »

Akshay

Great article Tim – and the part I agree with you on is we should have equality of opportunity for every girl no matter where her background is. Especially appreciate the club’s efforts to look into areas beyond where they’ve historically looked at, i.e., Hertfordshire. Where I take exception are the words “club’s efforts to ensure future first-team squad photos look different”. I think equality of outcome is the wrong aim. A parallel, while not an exact one, is the cricket team in India. There have long been calls that it is not “representative” of India because it doesn’t feature… Read more »

David Hillier's luggage

Thanks for this Tim. Lots to unpack, and I can’t help but feel it’s very much a socioeconomic issues that goes far beyond football. One thing I’m really pleased you mentioned accessibility for families from inner-city regions, and the barriers there are for young footballers to get training facilities. That’s why I found Honeyman assertion that “there isn’t much point in us recruiting someone from Southeast London” due to travel really disheartening. Nelson, Nketiah & Smith Rowe are all from South London, and Saka is from Ealing which is well over and hour away on public transport to Hale End… Read more »

Cygan’sbaldspot

Only a team full of White women could be labelled an “issue”.
The fact that these White women come from all over Europe, South America, etc, is irrelevant to the author who sees the very existence of a White majority as problematic. I’m getting so very tired of playing hypocrisy bingo with these people, but imagine the races were reversed. Would a majority Japanese team in Japan, or a majority Ghanaian team in Ghana be an “issue” that would need correcting with forced racial quotas? This article is anti-White.

arseblog

This is a bad take. It is pro-representation and pro-opportunity – for EVERYONE – not anti anything.

If the club, and some of the players themselves acknowledge this is an issue that needs to be addressed, maybe take that at face value and stop getting offended over nothing.

Akshay

Genuine question: how does the club do pro-representation for everyone without quotas?
I think pro-opportunity should be the aim and not representation. The latter should be a natural consequence of the former.

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