OPINION - I cheered on the Lionesses, but I have to ask — why was our team so very white?

England’s starting line-up against Spain in the World Cup final  (Getty Images)
England’s starting line-up against Spain in the World Cup final (Getty Images)

Ahead of the women’s World Cup final, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones — a businessman, farmer and founder of The Black Farmer brand — commented that the line-up for the England team did not represent diverse Britain, “as it was all these blonde, blue-eyed ladies”. This comment got a lot of backlash from the “it’s not always about race” brigade who seem to think we live in a colour-blind world where race doesn’t matter.

The reality is that the final line-up of our Lionesses, talented as they are, is a reflection of the historical and ongoing disparities in access to sporting facilities, coaching and resources for girls of colour and their communities.

Many young black girls, who often live in inner cities, can struggle to reach out-of-town training grounds. Talent centres were reduced in number from 52 to 30, and many of those that remained were not in cities. This meant that for those living there, their development and progression are limited and their chances of reaching elite levels and gaining national team selection is at times close to impossible.

England’s final line-up reflected the historical and ongoing disparities in access to facilities and resources

So with this in mind it is important that we have this conversation because representation matters. We need to give young black and inner city girls the same opportunities as young boys from the same backgrounds. Our men’s national teams are ones that boys from all backgrounds can see themselves in. And yes I said teams because it is not just football that women and girls of colour are being left behind in, if you look at our national rugby or cricket teams it is quite the struggle to find a woman of colour in the starting line-up.

The inclusion and diversity in the men’s teams has been achieved by men’s clubs arranging for male academy players to be transported from school to training and then back home, as happened with Marcus Rashford. Is that option going to be there for the girl whose parents are unable to ferry her back and forth? But now that the women’s game is taking off, maybe clubs will start investing in the same opportunities for their women’s team as they do for the men.

If that’s not possible, then that leaves an opportunity for the Government — and big brands — to step in. I am sure the major brands would have been watching the Women’s World Cup and planning to give more money to women’s teams so they can spot and sign the next big star.

Having said that, money won’t solve everything. Especially when it comes to getting more young black and brown girls into football or other elite team sports.

Because as a Muslim African woman, I have to say that there is a lack of understanding about cultural barriers in some black, Asian and minority communities. There are often a lot of different pressures for girls to conform to gender norms and not play sports. We have to think creatively — and one way around a particularly pernicious barrier is to look at the Muslim top football players who were at the Women’s World Cup playing as normal in their headscarves. For young Muslim girls, seeing that could be game-changing.

In the Eighties and Nineties, our men’s football teams looked different to how they do today — and our women’s team must change just as much. Only this time, much, much faster.

Elon Musk (WireImage)
Elon Musk (WireImage)

X is going backwards, not forwards

Last week Elon Musk said that users of X (formerly Twitter) will not be able to block people from seeing their posts or leaving comments. The social media platform owner said the function “makes no sense” — adding that it will only be possible to block someone from sending direct messages.

This announcement has raised concerns from women’s rights and anti-racist organisations. Rightly so. Because I can tell you as an X user that the block button is there to protect me. The platform was a lifeline when I started my campaign against FGM. It was a place to share ideas, get support and help change the world — and when those who did not agree with what I was fighting for came across my posts and attacked me, I could block them. If I hadn’t been able to do that I know that my mental health and personal safety would have been impacted.

I can’t tell you how stressful it is to be piled upon on social media. The block button is at times the only safety blanket you have and if that goes on X, then I think so will I.

And I won’t be alone because I believe countless others will leave too. Being safe online is not a privilege but a right. It is worse than sad to see that X under Musk is going backwards not forward.

Nimco Ali is a columnist and activist