Chelsea boss Emma Hayes asks if goals and pitches should be made smaller for women

Birmingham City Women v Chelsea Women - FA WSL

It was hard not to feel sorry for Sukanya Chor Charoenying earlier this week.

The 31-year-old Thailand goalkeeper conceded 13 goals during Tuesday’s World Cup group stage match against the United States.

The USA’s 13-0 win was the biggest ever victory in a FIFA Women’s World Cup match.

The result has sparked debate about whether the height of goals in women’s football should be reduced to make the game fairer.

At 5ft 5in, Charoenying is much shorter than the height of the crossbar (eight foot) and struggled to keep out shots aimed towards the top corners of the net.

Some people think it’s sexist to ask if the size of goals and pitches should be reduced for women - but Chelsea Women manager Emma Hayes isn’t one of them.

In fact, she believes that it might make sense to make radical changes in order to make the women’s game more fairer, competitive and entertaining.

In a column for The Times, Hayes says: “There is one obvious reason why women play on the size of pitches and goals that we see now. That is what we were given. And maybe no one ever thought to question whether it makes sense.

“But if you look at some other sports, someone must have decided one day that, actually, it would be daft to get women — average height in the UK 5ft 3in compared with 5ft 9in for men — to run over the same sprint hurdles in the Olympics. The women’s hurdles were made to be nine inches shorter, 33in compared with 42.

“So let’s try to set emotion aside and consider some facts, such as the average height of a goalkeeper in men’s football being at least 6ft 1in — latest figures put it as high as 6ft 3in in the Premier League — with goalkeepers in the Women’s Super League (WSL) about 5ft 8in.

"That is a significant disparity, particularly when the dimensions of a full-size outdoor goal are 8ft high and 24ft wide.”

USA v Thailand: Group F - 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France

She continues: “Perhaps this height differential alone is a reason why, according to statistics supplied by Opta, the average shot distance for the WSL is greater than the Premier League (17.9m compared with 16.5m) with a greater proportion of shots from outside the penalty area (42 per cent to 38 per cent) even though women shoot with less power.

“You might think that the women’s game would have fewer long-range efforts considering the power issue but, actually, there are slightly more goals scored from outside the box. Given the average height of goalkeepers, of course, it makes sense to be more speculative, but it is not necessarily a good look for the game.

“I heard Carly Telford, who plays for me at Chelsea, suggest it is about improving how we coach goalkeeping and we can always do our best to work on agility and positioning. But unless we are going to scout for women only of very unusual height, this could be a persistent issue.”

Chelsea Women v Paris Saint-Germain Women - UEFA Women's Champions League: Quarter Final First Leg

Hayes also believes that the size of pitches could potentially be made smaller in order to improve the women’s game - and doesn’t believe men should be called sexist for asking similar questions.

“I don’t want to see men called sexist for daring to discuss how the women’s game is different,” she concludes. "The facts are that, in all sorts of little ways, it is. We should be able to discuss why that might be good and bad.”

Hayes’ comments have sparked intense debate on social media. A thread on Reddit attracted more than 1600 comments within the first six hours of being posted.

It’s clearly a debate that has split opinion.

One person who fiercely disagrees with Hayes is the former United States goalkeeper Hope Solo, who is currently working as a pundit for BBC Sport in France.

“I had no problem covering my goal-and neither do many of the goalkeepers playing in the World Cup right now!” the 37-year-old, who represented her country 202 times, said on Twitter.

“If there was truly a problem with women tending the net, then we could talk about it. What is sexist is assuming that women need concessions. If you believe in the adaptability of humans then we should be striving to develop great GKs by giving women better coaching and training.

“GK coaching has historically been severely underfunded. I don’t care about the average height of women, we shouldn’t be looking for average players, we should look for spectacular athletes. It should take one of a kind players to make it to the top level. Not everybody can do it.


“Historically the quality of goalkeeping in the women’s game hasn’t been great. And when you look at the complete picture this isn’t just because of height, but because of the physique, lack of technique, inconsistent coaching and simply put by not having the best athletes in goal.

“What creates this problem with goalkeeping and the size of the goal is coaches who don’t demand more excellence, don’t provide year round quality training, and coaches who don’t select the proper athlete/goalkeeper to represent their teams.

“My former teammates fight to play on big fields, and I think they’ve shown that they have every right to play on the size of field they want. If you think the field is too big and you don’t want to listen to players you might as well make us play futsal!


“I can’t apologize for being emotional when I read comments like these because I spent my whole career pouring my blood, sweat and tears into perfecting my craft. To put a handicap on the women’s game cheapens the accomplishments of everyone who has worked so hard for years.”

Strong stuff there from Solo. It seems many people feel the same way.

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