Anita Asante feels there have been “important steps” taken with regard to the diversity issue in English women’s football but has stressed it will take some time to see them bear fruit.
During England’s run to winning Euro 2022, Asante wrote in the Guardian about the lack of diversity in a squad featuring just three members from black, Asian or mixed heritage backgrounds out of 23, with the player pathway and access to football for girls in schools among the issues the former Lioness pointed to as problems.
In February, the Football Association announced a revamped women’s and girls’ pathway that it said would make the game more diverse and accessible, with up to 70 ‘Emerging Talent Centres’ being established across the country.
A new-look women’s and girls’ player pathway has been announced, to unearth the very best talent in England while also making the game more diverse, accessible and inclusive.
— The FA (@FA) February 9, 2023
In March the Government announced a package to boost school sport and equal access to it, something the FA is set to help deliver, following England’s players calling for change just after the Euros.
More recently, an England squad for this summer’s World Cup has been named that has only two players from black, Asian or mixed heritage backgrounds, while a major independent review has said the FA should “urgently address the lack of diversity across the women’s game in both on and off pitch roles”, recommending it audits the existing workforce and uses the data to create a workforce strategy.
Asked for her thoughts on the current picture, Asante told the PA news agency: “I think the main thing is these issues and discussions have been taken seriously for the first time by the FA.
“They launched the emerging talent centres, they’ve got a list of different programmes, and the England girls launched the initiative with the Government.
“I think those were important steps, but this is still a very short-term window we’re looking at in terms of that progress. To see the fruits of that progress I think is going to take a lot longer.
“The review is a welcome one, because it still highlights that that is an issue. It’s about how can the recommendations be implemented for the long-term, to see the changes we want to see.”
The ex-Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa defender added: “If you look at the structures of governance in sport – are the institutions themselves reflective of diverse communities? Because I can talk about this all day long, but I don’t have the influence or the power. It’s people within.
“How important do they feel diversity is? What channels are they using to make things change?”
Asante feels a broad issue at grassroots level feeding into the current situation is that while participation interest has “gone up exponentially” since the Euros, “the infrastructure hasn’t moved on with that” with regard to staff, volunteers and facilities in place.
She has also emphasised her feeling that the FA utilising former players within the pathway, such as England greats Rachel Yankey and Mary Phillip, would be a “powerful tool”.
Asante, who won 71 England caps, has been working as a first-team coach at Bristol City Women since retiring from playing last summer.
And she said: “One of the reasons I took on this role was I felt it was important to give back in the way I could – to give players a different experience by meeting someone like me maybe from my background and journey in the game, and also to try to be a positive role model for others that might want to become coaches or just be involved in football somehow.”
An FA spokesperson said: “We are making progress in improving the diversity of our talent pathway and the wider game.
“However, these are long-term challenges, and they require all of football’s stakeholders to play their part if we are to drive lasting change.”
When her World Cup squad was announced, England boss Sarina Wiegman expressed her hope that ongoing work would lead to “more players from different backgrounds in the national team”, while stressing it “takes a little more time.”
Among the mixed results in the Football Leadership Diversity Code update for 2021-22 that it published in October, the FA reported women’s clubs reaching a 15 per cent pledge of new coaching hires coming from black, Asian or mixed heritage backgrounds.