Exclusive: Women in Football CEO Jane Purdon believes the Women's World Cup has silenced decades of criticism

GMSW Jane Purdon

After an exciting summer of football in England and beyond, it is the perfect time to sit back and reflect on the impact the sport has made.

The FIFA Women's World Cup seems like a lifetime ago, but it was only six weeks since the whole nation got behind the Lionesses as they made the journey across the channel.

Although they came home empty-handed, the Lionesses needn't have worried. Their success on and off the pitch went beyond their initial expectations. It's fair to say that this summer has been a real turning point for the female game. 

GMSW recently spoke to the CEO of Women in Football, Jane Purdon, to discuss the legacy of this summer's competition.

As CEO, Jane has a wealth of experience under her belt. Jane began her career within the football industry at Sunderland as Club Solicitor and Secretary, becoming one of the first in-house lawyers at a Premier League football club.

She then went onto spend ten years at the Premier League, where she became Director of Governance. In 2015, Jane then joined UK Sport as Head of Governance and Leadership.

In Jane's words, Women in Football "aims to support and champion women working in and around the football industry.

"Its objectives, as set out in the articles of association, are 'to promote equality and diversity and the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex in workplaces associated with football'," Jane explains.

Jane goes on to add Women in Football's three main aims:

  • to work with the football industry to enhance career pathways for women working in the game, and be a recognised leader in providing personal development and networking opportunities for them;
  • to be recognised as a 'go-to' voice with the government, football authorities, clubs and other organisations in respect of issues concerning women working in the game and; 
  • to offer effective legal and moral support in discrimination cases.

GMSW: How important is the role of organisations like Women in Football in regards to growing the women's game?

Jane: Women in Football walk hand in hand with the women's game to help normalise the sight of women in all kinds of roles within Football. It's important to have strong campaigning organisations to support women in the game.

We want to ensure that every woman can reach her full potential in football, whether as a player, coach, match official or working in the game.

GMSW: Onto the World Cup, on a personal level, how much did you enjoy the tournament?

Jane: I was lucky enough to be able to take my annual holiday in France for the World Cup, and loved it. It was also fantastic to see the reception for the tournament in England after we came home.

The BBC took a farsighted and, it turns out, totally vindicated decision to broadcast every game live, and this coupled with the progress of the Lionesses truly created some wonderful shared national moments.

I always knew that at this level the game was an engaging and entertaining spectacle and that it was likely that the World Cup would prove a huge hit in this country. People are used out to seeing elite women's sports on our TV screens, and Football was the natural one to add. It was brilliant that the game was showcased in this way.

Women in Football have made waves across social media during the World Cup as they continued their #WhatIf campaign in partnership with Twitter and GiveMeSport Women that was launched last year that saw clubs, coaches, players, media companies and more offer unique opportunities to those women looking to embark on a career within the footballing industry.  

The campaign saw bids from Sky Sports, who have since launched a Women in Football internship for budding broadcasters. Chelsea Ladies manager Emma Hayes offered to run a coaching masterclass; Muddy Knees Media ran a World-Cup long internship and GMSW's very own Benny Bonsu pledged to mentor young female sports journalists.

"The campaign has been hugely successful," Jane explained.

"We were delighted with its response: it felt like the entire football industry was engaging with it and committing to help improve the landscape for women in the game."

When asked what she thought the World Cup had done for the female game, Jane explained that "the World Cup has won respect for the game and at a stroke silenced decades of sniping and criticism. People can now see that these are elite, skilful players giving their all for the game they love and for their country."

GMSW: How do we now go about continuing the promotion of the women's game following this summer's success?

Jane: It's extremely important that we build on the momentum created by the World Cup. England has Europe's only entirely professional league, and it would be great to see attendances at matches in it rise dramatically. It is also important is that broadcasters and the media continue to cover the game in order to maintain its visibility.

As for the workforce, we know that many clubs and other major football employers simply want to employ the best talent available regardless of whether that talent is female or has any other protected characteristics. It is important that we all keep working to ensure that the football industry uses best practice to recruit and nurture the best talent, whatever it looks like. 

GMSW: Finally, what's your biggest hope for the future of the female game?

Jane: My biggest hope is that we will continue to see women thriving in all roles and at all levels within the football workforce until it is genuinely gendered diverse.

I also hope that the Lionesses, and the other home countries teams, continue to build and develop. I very much look forward to seeing Team GB in the Olympics next year, and of course to welcoming Europe to the 2021 European Championships which are taking place in England. I hope that this is backed by a well attended and thriving national club game. Women in Football have some exciting plans to continue to support women working in the game and those who employ them.

Although one can't predict what's next to come, the country's excitement toward the future of the game ensures it is trending in the right direction.

England v Sweden: 3rd Place Match - 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France

However, the positive legacy that this tournament has delivered will not continue without hard work. As we prepare to embark on a new season of the Women's Super League, we're presented with an opportunity to create forceful change. 

This summer's World Cup has put women's Football on a pedestal like never before. It's ignited a pure buzz of inspiration throughout women worldwide, and it's our job, as fans of the game, to ensure it's here to stay. 

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