This is a massive week for women’s football in Scotland. And for women in sport generally.
On Wednesday our national team will kick off their first match in the Euro 2017 finals in the Netherlands. The opening tie is against England.
No longer can we say that the last time Scotland qualified for a major football finals was France 98. Unless we are just talking about the men.
Some, of course, will shrug their shoulders – even if Scotland beat England – and say dismissively: it’s only women’s football. The same old arguments will be heard in pubs across the land: the quality’s not there; no-one cares; it’s not real football.
Of course, women’s football is not as developed (largely thanks to discrimination going back decades) but there is no reason why a women’s game should not be as skilful, or exciting.
But there’s a wider issue at stake here: the participation of women in sport at all levels. Unless women’s sport is placed on an equal footing with men, how can we expect young people to take part in equal numbers?
Yesterday was the women’s final at Wimbledon and all week we’ve had images of Johanna Konta and others beaming out from front and back pages. Well-paid, healthy, athletic and attractive, these are positive role models.
But this limelight is now over. Soon normal service will be resumed. The (men’s) Open Championship and the football season will dominate. Indeed, one piece of analysis found women’s sport receives only 2 per cent of overall sports coverage in the media.
It matters because research tells us that too many girls abandon sport in their early teens. Many are concerned about how they look during exercise; others just lack confidence. And there are other ways to “get thin” and “look healthy”; the positive impact on mental health and personal development isn’t on the average 13-year-old’s radar.
People know exercise is good for physical health – but it also builds confidence; demonstrates how to win and lose gracefully; develops concentration and focus.
As a society we all have a role to break down whatever barriers there are to women playing sport – at any age. Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign encourages women to get moving irrespective of appearance or ability. “Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox” is just one of the lines aimed at empowering women and changing attitudes.
So let’s start with the little stuff. Let’s not judge colleagues who are beetroot in the office following a lunchtime gym class. Let’s celebrate sporty girls as the cool kids. Let teachers allow sandwiches to be gulped in double maths following swim club over lunchtime.
If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. The media has a role to play too, and Scotland on Sunday pledges to play its part.