Olympic Legacy – Lisa Higgins

Legacy is a word we began to get very well accustomed to, over the course of that barmy unforgettable summer, last year.

Commentators, armchair sports fans and governing bodies of several sports, were left to wonder weather the idea of the London 2012 Olympic Games; of providing a sustainable, working legacy, would just be a distant pipe dream or turn into a glorious reality for British sport.

Eight or so months on since the Olympic flame flickered and removed its light from London and the world, for women’s football across these shores, that legacy on which the bid to stage the Games was won, seems in part to becoming a reality.

Broadcasters, disinterested and unimpressed by the sport are suddenly waking up to the ever improving structure and quality of the women’s game. The BBC have raised their commitment, by broadcasting England’s Euro 2013 championship campaign on BBC Three and Five Live. Providing more comprehensive coverage of The WSL and also broadcasting England’s friendly against Canada. Whilst Eurosport did broadcast some but not all of the Algarve Cup competition. London 2012 did change the perception of the way in which broadcasters see women’s football, not only as a game but as a commercial opportunity. It has also led to BT Sport signalling their commitment to broadcasting ladies’ games by securing the rights to broadcast the WSL.

Incorporated in the upsurge in viewing figures is the new vigour to engage with the next generation of girls to get involved with the game, at non-playing level: The What’s Your Goal? campaign for youngsters in comprehensive or secondary education. It enabled children to be mentored by the likes of Jacqui Oatley and Kelly Smith. This level of engagement with the next generation was one of the founding legacies LOGOC wanted to secure. It gave youngsters the opportunity to learn from the best people in the women’s game, creating a dialogue and spurring on youngsters to potentially get involved into adulthood. It is therefore no wonder that when interviewed by Dan Walker on Football Focus extra England international Casey Stoney revealed that she feels, this era in the women’s game is the best she has ever been involved in.

It’s a sentiment shared by many. When you see the men’s game being tarnished by racism, homophobia and marred once more by senseless violence between sets of rival fans as seen with the Sunderland and Newcastle United derby, it makes veteran broadcaster Claire Balding’s assessment of the game even more profound. She was recently quoted as saying, “Sponsors are looking to get involved in women’s sports because they know it is not tainted by the aspects that have tainted men’s football, or indeed men’s cycling, and they are looking for something that is growing in popularity, which it undoubtedly is.”

That untapped and genuinely warm nature of the game, even in hugely competitive action that is drawing people to the WSL and to internationals. Balding also went onto say,”You won’t see any diving or swearing at the ref. There won’t be any racist chanting from the fans, or homophobic abuse. There won’t be any hopeful hoofing of the ball halfway up the pitch and there won’t be any feigning of injury. However, if you enjoy a quick, sharp style of football, the kind that relies on skill rather than power, you will love it.”

It is that level of respect from the players of the game that has impressed. Even the women’s game was given a nod in the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 final in Sweden last week. Featuring 6 ladies kitted out in Blågult colours, heralding the passion that the Scandinavian nation has for the upcoming European Championship. There is a pride and passion for the game all over Europe, and if it continues to permeate into popular European culture, then the women’s game will have been changed for good.

Ladies’ football in Great Britain is at a pivotal crossroads, significant changes have been made on and off the pitch, perceptions have changed and more clubs have signalled their intent on establishing a women’s teams. A work in progress!

Vision is needed to capitalise on what has been one of the greatest periods of sustained change in the women’s game this country has seen. Concerted efforts by bodies governing the sport in the UK to improve the image and structure of the game have been made. Only time will tell if this truly is the start of the women’s game finally making its way into the mainstream consciousness of the British sport-going public.

Image – tgsphoto.co.uk

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