‘Let us send a women’s football team to Rio’

With less than a year to the Olympic Games, Casey Stoney makes an impassioned plea for politics to move aside and let Great Britain field a women’s football team in Rio. Stoney captained the GB squad at London 2012 when their 1-0 victory over Brazil attracted a record crowd of 70,584 to Wembley. As things stand, the refusal of the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh FAs to sanction a GB team means GB will be absent, leaving Stoney angry and frustrated at this obstacle to the development of the women’s game.

Photo by Dave Thompson - The FA via Getty Images
Photo by Dave Thompson – The FA via Getty Images

I get so annoyed when politics interferes with sport. I don’t think it ever should. The Home Nation FA’s should take a look at themselves. If Fifa guaranteed them in writing that they wouldn’t lose independence, as the world’s governing body did for London 2012, why can’t we send a GB women’s team to compete in Rio? We did more than enough to qualify.

It would build the profile and quality of our game at a crucial time. It would give Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh players – including Kim Little, one of the best players in the world – the opportunity to play in a major tournament they wouldn’t otherwise have. When I think about what London 2012 did for us – and, yes, I know it was a home Olympics – it really did raise the profile of the sport and changed perceptions forever.

We’re in danger of missing that opportunity again – just because of politics. As a player I don’t understand it. Why can’t we get these people round a table? Why can’t something be done to change the decision? Fair enough if the men’s team doesn’t go. Do they need it – no! But for our sport, it’s a massive opportunity. We’re missing out on the chance grow the sport.

But then I have to ask whether the Home Nation FAs – excluding England – really want to build the female game. I know how much my GB team-mate, Kim Little [Scotland’s leading goalscorer, now playing for Seattle Reign in the United States] gained from the experience of playing in the Olympics. So it really annoys me to see another opportunity go to waste.

I get frustrated about it because there are so many young players who could go and get more experience in such a combative tournament and come back to their clubs better players.

I want to change the landscape of women’s football for the next generation so they have more freedom to choose. I’ve got a little girl now who I want to grow up in a world of opportunities. She might not get the same pay. She might not be equal in that sense. But why shouldn’t she have the same opportunities as my little boy? Why shouldn’t there be as many girls’ teams as there are for boys. Why should she be sent to do dance or gym or ballet if she wants to play football. I think we’ve got a long way to go where equality is concerned.

Photo credit: Arsenal Football Club
Photo credit: Arsenal Football Club

Even so, we’ve come a long way already. I’m a paid professional footballer and that’s a momentous change. People ask: “Wouldn’t you have loved to be born 10 years later?” But I say “No” because I’ve been part of something that’s hopefully changed the face of women’s football forever. That for me is bigger than any amount of money. I used to pay to play. I used to get up at 5am to train before I went to full-time work. It makes me appreciate everything I have now so much more.

I love playing in the FA Women’s Super League. Although I’m still a bad loser. It hurt me when Arsenal lost at home to Manchester City a couple of week ago. I thought they out played and out fought us for pretty well 90 minutes. They look sharp, they look fit, they do everything the right way including training every day. Arsenal train at 5.30pm at night, so you get home late, what food are you eating then? How are you recovering? Whereas City go in at 9am, train at the Academy and have full access to all the facilities. I think every women’s club should go that way.

City look like the future of the game to me. I think other teams, are in danger of falling behind. You want every team competitive week in, week out. But then Arsenal have been a leading light for so many years and I know changes are in the pipeline which as a player i’m really excited about. Arsenal aren’t a club to fall behind and the future looks bright.

Perhaps there was a bit of tiredness in our performances when we got back from the World Cup. I didn’t even play much in Canada but just being in that environment for six weeks was draining. But I think real “tired” is having two babies waking up every night. You do learn to function on less sleep, though, and I can only manage because I’ve got an amazing partner in Meg. I couldn’t do what she does. Looking after babies is harder than playing football. They’re the best things that ever happened in my life. But I really don’t know how Roger Federer coped with two sets of twins. Well – I do. Probably his wife and nannies.

In the future, I’d like to coach or manage a team. I’m passionate about coaching. I’ve passed my B Licence and I’m doing my A Licence in November through the PFA and FA. My dream job is to be England manager. Mark Sampson, the current one, knows that. I don’t think he’s immediately worried. I just think you’ve got to dream big. That and work hard. Then you never know what will happen.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Casey Stoney - Eng WC shoot via The FACasey Stoney has been capped more than 100 times for the England women’s football team in a 15-year international career. She currently plays for Arsenal Ladies, having joined Chelsea at the age of 12. She has appeared in three successive World Cups and captained the Great Britain women’s team at the London Olympics in 2012. Her partner, Meg Harris, gave birth to twins, Teddy and Tilly, in November 2014. Stoney was named on the Independent’s 2015 list of the Most Influential Women in British Sport.

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