On Monday, The Football Association launched an ambitious new four-year strategy titled ‘Inspiring Positive Change’. One of the stated aims was to increase the proportion of ethnic minorities playing women’s soccer in England. Only two members of the current Lionesses’ 28-player squad are non-white compared to almost half the members of the men’s squad.
One of those players, Nikita Parris believes the time has come to make a difference. “I feel so passionate that we should be providing young BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) girls who live within inner cities, the opportunity to easily access their local Centers of Excellence, so the vision of the new Women’s and Girls’ strategy is the right direction we should be taking to provide more opportunities to those who may not have had it before”.
The 52-page strategy proclaims that “there is much to do to make football genuinely ‘For All’. The level of engagement with females from diverse communities is not where it should be. We believe the route to change this is to identify, develop and support local leadership that is grounded in the lived experience of every girl to help us facilitate football for everyone”.
Parris, who grew up in the Toxeth suburb of Liverpool, the daughter of a single mother who was working three jobs to make ends meet, is now a double Champions League winner, leading the line for Olympique Lyonnais the most successful club side in the world. Yet as a young girl, she required funding from Sports Aid, a UK charity that aims to help the next generation of British sports stars. Looking back, she realises how much she relied on the support of others to travel to training and matches. “I don’t believe it was the only way, but it certainly would have been harder, had I not had support from family, friends and the other parents from the team that I played for. A large majority of the time, (Everton manager) Mo Marley and (her husband) Keith Marley picked me up and took me, to and from training, 45 minutes each way. We didn’t live too far apart but we’re not next-door neighbors, so for them to go out of their way to pick me up, to take me to training speaks volumes of the people they are. It really helped me become the player I am today. Without their support, it wouldn’t have been possible”.
When Parris was first called up to represent England at youth level, the senior head coach was a black woman, Hope Powell, and up to a quarter of the squad was black. Now, Parris and her former Manchester City team-mate Demi