Dr. Jean Williams is a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for Sporting History and Culture De Montfort University in Leicester England. Having written on women’s football since 1998, Jean has recently published A Contemporary History of Women’s Sport 1850-1960 (Routledge, 2014). She is currently writing Send Her Victorious: A History of Britain’s Women Olympians 1900-2014 (Manchester UP, 2015).
In 1998 I spent some time in Namibia for the second World Conference on Women in Sport. I had a dual purpose to collect information on women’s football in Namibia for my PhD thesis and to raise my awareness of the issues facing African women who wanted to participate in sport. Several national women’s football teams were represented at the conference and they met as a group to protest at the lack of support from FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the world governing body of football. Being present at the meeting of the African women’s national teams and FIFA representatives, I was invited to advise FIFA how the Women Sport International 1994 Brighton Declaration on Women’s Sport, a commitment to increase the number and visibility of women in world sport, could be applied specifically to international football. My research therefore anticipated pledges to increase gender equity in the football industry. The Los Angeles Declaration on Women’s Football was launched at the second FIFA World Symposium to coincide with the Los Angeles Women’s World Cup in 1999. At the symposium, my academic work was showcased on a panel with presentations from the head of the Football Association of PR China, Zhang Jilong; the French Minister for Sport, Marie George Buffet and Anita De Frantz, a Vice President of the International Olympic Committee. All 203 FIFA member national associations attended, with over 500 delegates. It seemed like real change was about to come for women’s football and I was optimistic.
I was a little daunted about telling all those FIFA representative countries assembled at the symposium in 1999 about the institutionalized nature of sexism in the world game. In the end I should not have worried. I only spoke fifteen minutes and it was not as if my audience were going to be enlightened or challenged by my presentation. Kevan Pipe of the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) was one of the most supportive and friendly of the national representatives in LA. Some years later, I applauded the decision to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada, thinking of Kevan’s support for women’s soccer. However, he has since retired from the CSA and I became gradually aware that some of the institutional attitudes towards women’s soccer I had spoken out against in 1999 were still very much in evidence almost sixteen years later.