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Football’s long march to equality

Marseille (AFP) – The idea football was not for girls was tough to weed out as the women’s game, first launched in Britain after WWI and at the end of the 1960’s, paved the way for the current wave of enthusiasm that began in 2000 and will crest at the French World Cup this summer.

The Emancipation movement after the 1914-1918 World War triggered the golden age of women’s football according to Xavier Breuil, author of ‘A History of Women’s Football'(Nouveau Monde). 

As men were drafted to the front women were drafted onto the shop-floor, and in their breaks, some of them enjoyed a kick around in the yards, a tradition the male factory workers had previously enjoyed.

The era had its great team the “Munitionnettes” from Dick Kerr’s munitions factory in Preston, Lancashire and thir star player, Lily Parr, remains the sole female in the English football hall of fame since she was honoured in 2009.

In 1920 over 53,000 fans filled Goodison Park as Everton took on Saint-Helens, but by the following year, 1921, the football association refused women’s football access to their stadiums.

– The 1960’s feminist movement –

Football was played by women in England, Belgium, France and Germany but unfinanced by national structures faded in the 1930’s.

But two generations later in the 1960’s began a fresh striving for equality by the feminist movement.

“The Mouvement de liberation des femmes (MLF) liberated women not only politically but also physically,” social historian Anais Bohuon.

“We could do what the men did and if we wanted to pursue virile passions, we could,” says the Paris Sud university professor.

The women’s game once again raised its head from beneath the water and first European championships took place in 1969 and was won by Italy, although neither UEFA not FIFA recognised it as official.

A World Cup was organised in 1970 in Denmark and several other events took place without FIFA’s nod of approval.

– “A man’s world” –

The women’s game advanced only slowly however while feminisme itself continued to gain incremental margins of equal civil rights with mockery and paternalism still rife across society.

“Football remained very much a man’s world according to the sociologists Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning, who were the among the forerunners of those studying sport,” says Anaïs Bohuon.

Que les femmes jouent au foot “a cristallisé toutes les craintes morales qui traversent les siècles dès lors que les femmes mettent leur corps en mouvement, la grande peur de la virilisation par le sport”, insiste-t-elle.

S’expriment même “des craintes médicales et sociales très fortes: qu’elles se virilisent, qu’elles mettent en danger leur organes reproducteurs, et qu’elles n’assument pas le rôle qui leur est imparti depuis la nuit des temps”.

De 1970 au milieu des années 1980, le football féminin vivote, sauf aux États-Unis, où “le soccer est considéré comme une discipline presque féminine, les filles en font très précocement et c’est dans les mœurs”, rappelle la professeure Bohuon.

Ce sont donc logiquement les Américaines qui vont dominer les premières Coupes du monde officielles, remportant deux des trois première éditions (1991, 1999, la Norvège en 1995).

Car au tournant des années 1980, les institutions prennent enfin les filles au sérieux et créent un Euro en 1984 (victoire de la Suède) et un Mondial en 1991.

La Coupe d’Asie naît en 1975, celles d’Amérique du Sud (Copa America) et d’Afrique (CAN) en 1991.

Les années 2000 ont accéléré le mouvement, avec la naissance de la locomotive du foot européen, la Ligue des champions, née en 2001-2002 sur le modèle de celle des garçons.

Le professionnalisme avance doucement, à l’image du WUSA nord-américain, championnat pro qui ne tient que trois ans (2001-2003), relancé sous le nom de WPS en 2009.

Reste que de plus en plus de filles jouent au foot, motivées notamment par le film “Joue-la comme Beckham” (2002), où de jeunes anglaises d’origine pakistanaise joue au foot, cité par la première Ballon d’Or de l’histoire, Ada Hegerberg. Mais justement, la meilleure joueuse du monde ne sera pas au Mondial, pour protester contre l’amateurisme de sa fédération norvégienne. Le chemin vers l’égalité est encore long.

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