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TACKLING SEXISM IN SPORT: ON AND OFF THE PITCH

BY OLIVIA HANCOCK FROM LUTTERWORTH, UK

On International Day of the Girl Child we meet lifelong passionate footballer, Olivia who is campaigning to end sexism in girl’s football and introduce the sport into every UK primary school.  Through her activism, Olivia hopes to change the experience for other young female footballers and encourage more girls to find passion in the sport.

11 October 2020

My love of football started at the age of two years old. I attended a kid’s football club when I was five, but I was the only girl there. Often, I would not get the ball passed to me – was I invisible?

I kept going but it wasn’t getting easier. There weren’t any girls’ teams near me at that time. I found a few girls who wanted to play football but there wasn’t enough for a team, which was disappointing. But giving up was never an option, I loved kicking a football! So, I joined a boys under seven team and thought that was great. Unfortunately, I spent most of the time as a sub and often never got passed to. But I just kept going.

I received so many nasty comments about being a girl playing football, even a parent loudly said, ‘I bet that girl is a nailed-on Lesbian’. I was playing for an under 10 team at the time and was just nine years old. A few years later, I was punched by a boy during a match after I tackled him. Sadly, I was not the only girl experiencing this kind of sexism. And I am still receiving messages from girls or their parents to this day, telling me about the problems they have faced. I knew I needed to speak out to make a change. Girls have every right to play football as equals, without fear of verbal or physical attacks.

“I received so many nasty comments about being a girl playing football, even a parent loudly said, ‘I bet that girl is a nailed-on Lesbian’. I was playing for an under 10 team at the time and was just nine years old.”

So I started to speak out. A female player said to me that she wished that she’d spoken out about the problems she’d faced. I told her that if she had, maybe many other girls wouldn’t be facing the problems that we still do, just for kicking a football. My story was covered by the Telegraph sport newspaper and I did a follow up column. The story was about me but also supporting girls and women in sport. It resonated with many people who could relate to the problems that I, and other females playing football face, as well as those working in the sports industry.

After this, I had a message through my Twitter account asking if I would be interested in doing a speech before the Women’s Champions League Final for UEFA – I thought it was a wind up! After we made contact, I realised it was definitely for real and it was a great honour to be asked. The speech had to be right. I had never given a speech in my life, but now I was doing one for UEFA. At 13 years old! Was I scared? No. I needed to do this for every girl to say we have a future in the game and that we belong in the game. The speech was seen all over the world and went surprisingly well. I even got a standing ovation! That helped give me a bigger platform to voice the problems girls face, not just on the pitch but also off the pitch.

“So I started to speak out. A female player said to me that she wished that she’d spoken out about the problems she’d faced. I told her that if she had, maybe many other girls wouldn’t be facing the problems that we still do, just for kicking a football.”

Following this, I approached the supermarket giant Asda/George because I often saw boys football t-shirts but never ones for girls. They invited me to their Head Office and I explained why it was important to not only include girls football t-shirts but to include everyone. I helped design a t-shirt, which I hope is the first of many. I felt that day I brought a young person’s perspective on how the world is changing, how we need to move forward equally, making sure everyone matters, including girls.

Football has always been a big part of my charity work. As much as football has brought challenges, being a female, it has also brought me so much joy. I’ve made many friends along the way. Because of this, I’m campaigning for every Primary School to have a girls football team as it is so much more than just kicking a ball around.

On Sunday, 8th November, it’ll be Girls Play Football Day and I’m hoping it will be even bigger than the first one last year. I set up this awareness day to simply highlight that girls play football.

You can support the day and raise awareness by posting a football picture on social media with the hashtag #girlsplayfootballday to spread the word.

If you would like to follow my journey, then please follow me on my Instagram account  @oliviahancockfootball – or subscribe to my YouTube channel – oliviahancockfootball – where you will also see my speeches for UEFA and the Youth Sports Trusts. 

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